Eastern Redcedar

Eastern Redcedar

Juniperus virginiana L.

The branches of the eastern redcedar are compact and form a pyramidal crown, except in older trees. The leaves are usually arranged in opposing pairs along the branchlets. They are a dark shiny green color. The bark is reddish brown with a tendency to peel in long fibrous strips.

Conelets form in late summer or early fall and become visible early in the following spring. They are fertilized in summer. The berrylike cones change color, becoming greenish white then whitish blue and finally bluish, as they mature. Each cone contains one to four seeds. The birds and animals that feed on them spread the seeds over a wide area. The bony seeds are carried through their digestive system intact and deposited with their droppings.

This tree is not a true cedar but a member of the juniper family, as the botanical name implies. It is closely related to Juniperus scopulorum, the Rocky Mountain juniper.

There are numerous cultivars of eastern redcedar. Many are characterized by color differences that vary from dark green to bluish green, to silvery, to gray-green, to bronze, and even to purple.

Although they are slow growing, heights of over 40 feet have been recorded. Eastern redcedars have been known to adjust to shade conditions by remaining dormant until the dominant trees lose their leaves. They then conduct photosynthesis while their taller neighbors are dormant.

The eastern redcedar is found in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and in almost every state to their east, then northward to the southern Ontario and Quebec. Prior to the availability of plantation grown Christmas trees, wild eastern redcedars were the tree of choice for many in the south. They were chosen for their natural conical shape and ready supply.

Eastern redcedar are propagated by seed germination. But the aforementioned cultivars are propagated by rooted cutting. This technique guarantees progeny with genetic characteristics identical to the parent plant. Air layering and grafting are also effective.

The eastern redcedar has a fibrous root system that is useful for erosion control. It is a pioneer species on strip mining sites. It provides cedarwood oil, a natural product used in compounding various fragrances. Redcedar wood is reputed to have natural moth repelling qualities and has been long used in cedar chests, wardrobes and closets. The growth character of the tree limits the lumber to fairly small board sizes. Cedar poles are highly resistant to decay and are widely used for fence posts because of their longevity in soil.

Eastern redcedar is important to wildlife, too. It provides birds with cover for nesting and roosting. Its foliage, although low in nutritional value, provides an emergency food supply for wildlife in stress. And its fruit is eaten by many species as a source of fat, fiber, calcium and carbohydrates. This forms the basis of a symbiotic relationship that ensures the continued spread of the tree through seed distribution in the animal droppings.

These trees are usually available at choose and cut tree farms only.

Prepared by Clarke J. Gernon, Sr., Shady Pond Tree Farm