Eastern Redcedar is the most widely distributed eastern conifer. It can commonly grow 10 to 60 feet in height in a pyramidal shape with an straight trunk and horizontally spreading branches. In the early years of growth the lower branches may cover a horizontal distance as great as the tree is tall. Dead branches usually do not self-prune.
Twigs & Leaves can be of two types. The first are scalelike, no teeth and dark green, about 1/16 inch long, with a gland dot, and held tightly against the twig in four ranks so that the twig appears square. They overlap by more than 1/4 their length. On newer wood there can also be longer leaves, called 'whips', about 1/4 inch, that are awl like, dark blue-green in color. Both give off a resinous aromatic odor when bruised. Leaves can turn reddish-brown in winter.
The bark is reddish-brown, thin, fibrous and exfoliating in thin strips. Sap wood is white and only the inner heartwood is reddish, fine grained, with a fine odor.
Flowers: Most specimens are dioecious, that is, they have only male flowers or female. Male flowers (staminate) are pollen cones, small, 3 to 4 mm long, yellow-brown in color and appear in large groups at the tips of branches. Each cone contains structures called sporophylls, which each contain a small number of pollen sacs. The entire cone structure is referred to as a strobilus. These begin to develop in late summer and reach maturity, turning color in late winter. Female flowers (pistillate) are light blue-green forming a 3 to 6 mm ovoid mostly closed conelet on a short straight erect stalk. These also develop in the fall of the previous year, but do not enlarge until late winter. The conelet has many ovules connected to small style-like structures that actually receive the pollen when the male pollen cones split open. Fertilization happens rapidly and the female cone closes.
The fruit is a light blue-green cone in the spring, and after fertilization, closing and becoming dark blue berry-like with a whitish "bloom". The 1/4 inch berries are juicy and contain one or two small seeds and ripen the first season and if planted then, will germinate the following spring. Trees need to be about 10 years old to produce significant fruit. Fruit not planted in the season of maturity will not germinate until the second season.
Habitat: Eastern Redcedar grows best in sunny well-drained alluvial sites where there is not domination by hardwood species. It does adapt to a wide variety of soils, with wide acidity differences, from dry rocky places to wet lands. In abandoned lands it can take hold due to lack of competition.
Names: The genus name Juniperus, is the Latin name for the Juniper, a plant well established in the Old World. The species name, virginiana, means 'of Virginia'. The species was first found by the colonists on Roanoke Island, Virginia in 1564. The author name for the plant classification, 'L.' refers to Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy.
Varieties: There are two accepted varieties of the species - var. virginiana, the Eastern Redcedar and var. silicicola, the Southern Redcedar, which is restricted in range in the Southeastern U.S. from Louisiana along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts up to North Carolina. The tips of the scale leaves are more blunt in var. silicicola and the fruiting cones are larger.
Above: Eastern Redcedar can become a large tree such as this old specimen located just inside the Garden gate. Given more space the form becomes more cylindric with age. Drawing from North American Sylva by Francois Michaux and Thomas Nuttall.
Below: 1st photo - A younger tree in the Upland Garden showing a more pyramidal shape. 2nd photo - The alternate leaf type, called a 'whip', that can appear on new wood is awl-like and dark blue-green. 3rd photo - The bark of an older tree is thin, fibrous and exfoliating.
Below: Male pollen conelets mature as early as the first week of May in Central Minnesota. They resemble small upright cones. 2nd photo The female conelets are a light blue-green, cone shape, shown here ready for fertilization. They develop into the darker blue Juniper berry shown in the next photo below. Note the scale-like green overlapping leaves.
Below: The female flowers mature into the blue berry typical of junipers
Below: The overlapping scale leaves, arranged in four ranks around the twig, making a square-ish appearance. Each scale with a resinous gland.
Below: 1st photo - The rust begins on the red cedar in the shape of a curved gall resembling a large caterpillar with spines. When moist rainy days come, bright orange horns resembling gelatin develop (2nd photo). From these horns the spores that affect apple trees are released. In late spring (3rd photo) the galls dry up. (more detailed article)
Notes: Eloise Butler planted specimens of Eastern Redcedar in the Woodland Garden in May 1909 obtained from the Park Board Nursery, and again in 1911 and '17, same source. Martha Crone planted it in 1936 also. Gardener Cary George reported that the ones on the edge of the Upland Prairie are volunteer trees spread when birds eat their berries. They form a needed windbreak on the prairie edges.
Eastern Redcedar is native to much of Minnesota from North Central south, except some far SW counties. In North America it is found from the Great Plains eastward in the U.S. - every state east of the 100th meridian - and in southern Ontario and Quebec.
Winter Interest: The tree maintains it's coloration year round and while the berries are very attractive to wildlife, many will persist through the winter for visual interest. Larger specimens will provide shelter for birds. It small lots it needs to be kept away from gardens as the roots are spreading. On large lots it can make an attractive barrier. Unlike White Cedar, this tree prefers more upland sites with sandy soils.
Uses: Eastern Redcedar's use for lumber is quite restricted as it was becoming scarce even in the middle of the 19th century. The wood has had a variety of uses over the years, from fence posts to cabinetwork and cedar oil has been extracted for medicines and perfumes. It is the aromatic wood of cedar chests. One needs to be careful where it is planted as the tree is an alternate host to the cedar-apple rust, a fungus affecting orchards - see note below. The red cedar lumber that most of us are probably familiar with is usually from the Western Red Cedar, Thuja plicata, also of the Cypress family.
Botanist Francois Michaux (son of Andre) wrote in his North American Sylva in the 1820s: "It is procured with difficulty, and is every day becoming scarcer, it is reserved exclusively for the most important uses. It is most commonly used for posts which are highly esteemed and are reserved for enclosing court-yards and gardens in the cities and their vicinity. The barriers of the side-walks in the streets of Philadelphia are made of this wood; they are 10 or 11 feet long and 8 inches in diameter, and are sold at 80 cents each while those of White Cedar cost only 16 or 17 cents. It is eminently fitted for subterranean water-pipes but is rarely employed, from the difficulty of obtaining stocks of sufficient diameter."
Cedar Apple Rust: Eastern Red Cedar is an alternate host to the Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae fungus which affects apple trees of the Malus genus. It is more damaging to the apples than to the cedars. Photos above . Comprehensive article (PDF).
References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.
Identification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"