Skip to content

Tree 38: Coffin Juniper

Latin name: Juniperus recurva var Coxii
Family: Cupressaceae
Other names: Cox’s weeping juniper
Origin: India, China, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar at altitudes of 3-4,000 metres.
Height: 6-20 metres, up to 40 metres in natural habitat
Autumn leaf loss: Evergreen
Gender Type: Monoecious (Male and female flowers on same tree)

The Coffin Juniper is regarded by some botanists as one of the two varieties of the Drooping Juniper (Juniperus recurva) but others regard the two varieties as separate species. It takes its name from its extensive use, in its native habitat, for making coffins. Informally, it is sometimes known as the eternal tree. The felling for making coffins has led to a situation where there are few large trees in its native habitat. Indeed, in conservation terms, it is now classified as “near-threatened”. The reference to “Coxii” in the scientific name honours E. H. M. Cox who, with R. Farrer, cultivated the tree in England using seed collected in northern Myanmar (then known as Burma).

The leaves are needle-like, 5-10 mm long and arranged in 6 ranks in alternating whorls of three.  The weeping branches are curved slightly backward at the tips. The female cones are berry-like, glossy blue-black in colour and 5-10 mm long and 4-7mm in diameter. They contain one single seed that will take around 18 months to mature. The male cones are 3–4 mm long, and shed their pollen in early spring.

In Europe and North America, it is a reasonably popular ornamental tree in areas with the appropriate wet-temperate climate and seems to be particularly popular in the U.K. and New Zealand . This popularity seems to be principally due to its drooping foliage. It is rather hard to appreciate this foliage to the full in our Whirlow Brook Park tree as it is closely surrounded by smaller shrubs. But the texture and colour of its trunk is interesting and the leaves, if rubbed between finger and thumb, have a distinctive smell. Do you like it?