This evergreen tree species is native to the eastern half of the United States and southeastern Canada. Most of us have seen this tree around our neighborhoods and never thought of it, however, it is a remarkably valuable species for all it does for us.
This species can grow to 40 to 50 feet tall with a dense, pyramidal shape and a drip zone that is 8 to 20 feet in diameter. It is found in hardiness zones 2 through 9 and, thus, does well in our environment, zone 7. It has two types of needle leaves: those that will jab your hand or finger, and those that do not. It has medium greenish foliage and needs full sunlight in order to achieve its full potential.
The eastern red cedar is quite forgiving when it comes to soil types. It can do well in just about any of them. It can withstand occasional flooding but is also rather good at withstanding drought conditions.
This evergreen is often used as a property screen and as a windbreak. It is very friendly to many types of birds and other animals.
Many species of wildlife favor this tree, especially birds like cedar waxwings, cardinals, and blue jays that feast on its blue berries. In addition, many small birds roost in its branches to get out of the winter winds, especially at night. Some animals browse on the short leaves, especially in the winter when little else is available.
The eastern red cedar is a classic example of just how foolish common names are for both plants, fungi, and animals. This plant is not just from the east, is not red, and certainly is not a cedar. It’s a juniper.
This tree should not be planted near apple trees because both will succumb to cedar-apple rust. Plant an apple tree or an eastern red cedar, but not both!
Several people have indicated to the author that they used the berries of eastern red cedar to flavor grain alcohol during prohibition times to produce “bathtub gin.”
Eastern red cedars are grown and available in the nursery of the Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center.
Charlie is a retired professor and Biological Oceanographer. He taught five courses in the University of Georgia System for many years from his home base in Savannah, Georgia.
Charlie loves hiking at Reflection Riding, teaching children about the ecology of the area, and interacting with the Reflection Riding staff. They are GREAT!
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Planting native helps restore the natural habitat required for beautiful birds, butterflies and other insects to thrive. Plus, native plants are supposed to be here, so they're often more tolerant of neglect, poor soil, and draught.