Photo of juniper plant and its berries

General Description / Cultural Significance

From the valleys looking towards the hills, the mountains are covered in pine and cows wander by. In this beautiful Himalayan nation local people wait for the arrival of the cranes, a symbol that it is time to plant the winter wheat. Their high-pitched calls resonate through the valley. The predicted change in the patterns of the cranes’ migration have not yet taken place. They arrived on schedule this year. 

Juniper is mentioned in the Bhutan national anthem. The oldest of pre-Buddhist beliefs claim the juniper tree is the abode and symbol of the goddess of fertility. Juniper twigs are the symbol of life, and to break one is symbolic of death. The incense of juniper, used by Bhutanese, also called Drukpas, is said to be the perfume of the gods, and juniper branches are burnt as incense in all monasteries and houses of the Himalayas.

The plant itself has dense branches and thick, scale-like leaves. The trees are often felled for religious purposes, primarily when a community member dies. Bhutanese people prefer to cremate bodies with freshly felled juniper trees.

Climate Change/Conservation Status

In 2012, the United Nations published their first World Happiness Report, an initiative proposed by the Prime Minister of Bhutan, who urged nations to rethink how they measure progress. Bhutan, a Buddhist country on the edge of the Himalayas, has had their own happiness index for decades. The head of the Center for Bhutan Studies and Gross National Happiness Research has said that looking exclusively at a country’s gross domestic product allows countries to miss out on larger moral truths, “that aggregate final optimal value which we call happiness.”

In Bhutan, the pursuit of happiness equates to the value of nature and the effect of clean air as a priority. Environmental preservation is cultural preservation.  Bhutan is the only country in the world that is carbon negative, absorbing more carbon than it emits.

Some of the pillars of happiness include such sensorial pleasures as deep sleep, a forest walk and the country’s hot chilies, which came through India and established themselves as an important vegetable served as a main dish and loved for their hot flavor.

Because of rising temperatures brought about by climate change, Bhutan’s glaciers are receding at the rapid pace of 30-60 meters per decade. The water runoff is forming large glacieral lakes in some instances where junipers once stood. Juniper is not listed as endangered, according to the IUCN Redlist, and hopefully it remains this way.

Alternate Names
Black juniper