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Eastern Red Cedar

February 5, 2018

Tree of the Month

Juniperus virginiana

Although commonly called a cedar, it is actually a juniper. A native tree to every state east of the Mississippi River, it is perhaps the most adaptable of all evergreen species. They can tolerate salt, drought, heat, cold, and wind and even shed snow with little breakage. This species will grow in sand or clay soils, but avoids shady or swampy sites.

One of the first trees to invade fence lines and open fields, young trees grow fast and then slow down with age. Mature trees can reach 40 feet wide by 100 feet tall, although rarely exceed 25 feet by 60 feet tall. Red cedars self-seed, so freely pure stands often occur quickly in abandoned fields becoming dense havens for wildlife.

The foliage is needle-like on young trees to deter browsing animals and more scale-like on mature trees, but both types of foliage may occur on the same tree. The scales are usually dark green in summer and discolored to a yellow-green in winter. Females may appear reddish when flowering in spring, although these are not obvious in the landscape. They may also appear to be tinted blue in late summer or fall when 1/8 to ¼ inch diameter blue modified cones or berries ripen. The fruit is a favorite food of birds which helps the tree regenerate so prolifically. The fruits are also used to flavor gin.

Red cedars are also commonly used for fence posts, pencils, cedar chests and closets and Christmas trees. The aromatic red-colored wood is resistant to rot and pests, even repelling some such as moths.

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