When is a Cedar not a Cedar? When it’s a Juniper, of course!
Common names can be confusing in the plant world, but never more so than when we talk about the Eastern Red Cedar, Juniperus virginiana. This member of the Juniper genus received the moniker ‘Cedar’ in honor of the Cedar Waxwings that feed on its berries. The wood from Juniperus virginiana is the same aromatic wood that is used for fenceposts, cedar chests, cabinetwork, and carvings. Cedar oil for medicine and perfumes is obtained from the wood and leaves.
This fast growing evergreen is a pioneer species, meaning it can thrive in some tough conditions. It’s often the first thing to seed in after an established area has been disturbed, such as by fire. It tolerates heat, drought, wind, and cold as well as various soil types. In fact, the only situations where it will struggle are deep shade, swampy soil, or highly alkaline soil.
It can live for up to 450 years, but often does not. As it grows it sheds needles, enriching the soil. Its roots work the soil. Micro-organisms begin to thrive. Species that feed on it begin to arrive and their activity enriches the ecosystem. Gradually, an inhospitable area becomes more and more hospitable. New plant species arrive that are less tough. These new species include trees that will grow and cast shade on the juniper. Having done its job by making a barren area suitable for other, less tough species to thrive, it slowly declines in the shade of those species.
The species is dioecious, meaning there are male and female trees. The blue, berry-like cones of the female are high in carbohydrates and fats They feed a variety of birds and small mammals such as Black Bear, Gray Fox, Opossum, Eastern Chipmunk, and White-Footed Mouse.
Owls, sparrows, and other birds like to roost in Easter Red Cedar and take advantage of the protective cover it offers.
Cooper’s Hawk, Blue Jay, Northern Mockingbird, Robin, Prairie Warbler, Pine Warbler, House Finch, Chipping Sparrow, Song Sparrow, and Field Sparrow make nests in it.
Caterpillars of Olive Hairstreak and several moths, as well as larvae of a number of beetles turn to the Eastern Red Cedar for habitat. White-Tailed Deer occasionally browse on the leaves and twigs.
On favorable sites it can grow to 100 feet tall, while on difficult sites it will remain stunted and gnarly, similar to the Bristlecone Pine. More typically, it reaches around 50 feet in height, and 10 to 15 feet in width. It is the most drought resistant of any conifer in the U.S. and grows about 12″-24″ a year. In some areas it can create dense stands which some people deem as ‘invasive’.
There is a great deal of genetic variation in this species. Sometimes the branches are very bristly to the touch, other times they are softer. Some are blue-green in color, others a darker green. Many take on a darker, rusty tone in the winter. Some trees develop an erect pyramidal form, and others are clumpy, or even droop at the tips.
No matter what size or form they take, they are an excellent addition to a hedgerow, windbreak, or privacy screen and provide enormous ecological benefit.
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Their tap roots reach deep into the soil to seek moisture, so there is no need to over water these trees. Too much water will keep the roots at surface level, and the tree can topple in a strong wind.
These evergreen trees are beautiful in winter, particularly the fruiting females. Imagine them against the winter landscape of snow, blue seed cones contrasting with the white, birds flitting among their branches, the shadows casting on the white ground.
In late spring, you may see the sporty horns of cedar apple rust. These fungal structures don’t harm the cedar and provide a unique appearance that marvels anyone who sees them. If you have apples, crab-apples, or any species in the rose family, you’ll want to watch that these alternate hosts are not affected.
We offer small container trees of Eastern Red Cedar that will grow quickly once planted in your landscape. Don’t miss another season with out one!
Here is a complete list of birds that eat the berries of Eastern Red Cedar, courtesy of Illinois Wildflower https://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/trees/tables/table127.htm
Meleagris gallopavo Wild Turkey
Colinus virginianus Bobwhite
Sphyrapiens varius Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker
Colaptus auratus Northern Flicker
Cyanocitta cristata Blue Jay
Quiscalus quiscula Common Grackle
Tyrannus tyrannus Eastern Kingbird
Toxostoma rufum Brown Thrasher
Dumetella carolinensis Catbird
Mimus polyglottos Northern Mockingbird
Turdus migratorius Robin
Bombycilla cedrorum Cedar Waxwing
Sturnus vulgaris Starling
Sialia sialis Eastern Bluebird
Catharus guttatus Hermit Thrush
Catharus ustulatus Swainson’s Thrush
Dendroica coronata Yellow-Rumped Warbler
Petrochelidon pyrrhonota Cliff Swallow
Tachycineta bicolor Tree Swallow
Carpodacus purpureus Purple Finch
Loxia leucoptera White-Winged Crossbill
Passerella iliaca Fox Sparrow
Spizella passerina Chipping Sparrow
Zonotrichia albicollis White-Throated Sparrow