EASTERN RED CEDAR

Juniperus virginiana

When is a cedar not a cedar? When it’s an Eastern Redcedar. According to master gardener Pat Chadwick the name is a misnomer. This plant is actually a juniper, as its botanical name (Juniperus virginiana) indicates. True cedars belong to the Cedrus genus and are not native to this country. Sources are inconsistent on the treatment of the common name, variously referring to it as eastern red cedar (two words), eastern redcedar (one word), eastern red-cedar (hyphenated), and red cedar, among many other names.

To say this plant has an image problem is an understatement. It has been snubbed over the years by tree aficionados, partially because it is so common. This ubiquitous native evergreen is the most widely distributed conifer in the eastern part of North America. It grows prolifically along fence rows, highways, and back roads, as well as in pastures and open fields that are not routinely mowed or maintained.

Despite the negatives just cited, the eastern redcedar has plenty of good qualities. It is:

• Resistant to extremes of drought, heat, and cold. Regardless of where you stand on the issue of global warming, this is a plant that can take such conditions with aplomb.
• Tolerant of a wide range of soils — poor dry soil, alkaline soil, and dry rocky outcrops, as well as wet swampy land.
• Tolerant of windy conditions, so much so that the species was planted as windbreaks to offset the dust bowl conditions of the 1930s.
• Salt tolerant, which means it can be used near roads, driveways, and sidewalks. It can tolerate brackish marshy sites in the southeastern part of Virginia and coastal sand dunes that are subject to salt spray.
• A significant source of food and shelter for wildlife. The blue fruits on the female trees are consumed by a wide variety of wildlife, including the Cedar Waxwing songbird, which is named for this tree.
• A moderate to long-lived evergreen. Some specimens have been known to live more than 500 years. Large specimens are often found in old cemeteries and other older, undisturbed properties.

VALUE FOR WILDLIFE

The dense branches of the eastern redcedar provide important refuge and shelter for song birds and game birds, such as quails, bobwhites, ruffed grouse, pheasants, and turkeys. Butterflies and small mammals also benefit from the cover this tree provides. The soft, silvery bark peels off in long, flexible strips which squirrels and other small mammals use in their nest materials. The berries are an important source of food for more than 50 bird species as well as a variety of mammal species, including rabbits, foxes, raccoons, skunks, opossums, and coyotes. The twigs and foliage are often eaten by hoofed browsers, such as mule deer and whitetail deer.

The tree is a pioneer species in disrupted habitats and the perfect privacy screen to help keep your neighbors’ architectural escapades naturally out of view.

SPECS: Genus: Juniperus ; Species: Virginiana; Plant Type: Tree; Life Cycle: Perennial; Sun Exposure: Full Sun; Soil Moisture: Wet, Medium Wet, Mesic (middle), Medium Dry; Height: 40′ — 70′; Spread: 20′; Plant Spacing: 20′ — 30′; Bloom Time: February — April; Bloom Color: Blue, Green; Advantages: Adapted to fire, Birds, Erosion control, Forage production, Grassland restoration, Low maintenance, Privacy screen; USDA Zone: 2 — 9; Attracts: Beneficial insects, Bumblebees, Moths, Songbirds; Tolerant: Clay, Deer, Rocky soil, Salt, Wet soils;