Eastern redcedar

Juniperus virginiana
Family: Cupressaceae

Natural HistoryEastern redcedar
Branch of eastern redcedar
Photo credit: Larry Korhnak, University of Florida

Eastern redcedar, sometimes called pencil-cedar, is the most widespread juniper in the eastern United States. The tree was once the primary wood used to make pencils but has been replaced with cheaper woods and synthetic materials. The popular Gulf coast town of Cedar Key, Florida was named for its historic abundance of redcedar and was once home to large pencil factory. The factory was shut down when all the cedar trees in the area were harvested.

Habitat & Range

Eastern redcedar is found in all states east of the Great Plains, from southern Canada to Florida and west into Texas. It is primarily located in low mountains and Piedmont regions. This species can grow in a variety of soil types, but prefers moist, well-drained soils with a limestone base. It is most common in sunny, upland woods, or moist hammocks. It also is found in dry, shallow, rocky areas, such as old fields and ridges.

Wildlife Use

Wildlife benefit greatly from redcedar trees, using them heavily as a source of refuge, shelter, and food. The dense branches provide a hiding place for many birds, while the bark that peels off in long, flexible strips provides nesting material for squirrels and other small mammals. White-tailed deer browse on redcedar vegetation, but the most important food source coming from these trees is the seeds, which are covered with a fleshy, berry-like layer. These seedcoats provide food for foxes, skunks, opossums, rabbits, mice, ground birds, and many songbirds.

Human Use

Eastern redcedar heartwood is prized for its pleasant fragrance and insect-repellant properties and is frequently used to line closets, wardrobes, or cedar chests. It is attractive, fine-textured, and easily worked and is commonly used to make woodenware, gifts, and novelty items. Large trees are harvested commercially for paneling, poles, and fence posts. Sawdust and wood chips are used in kennel bedding to minimize odors and repel fleas. Cedarwood oil is extracted from the trees as a fragrance base for soaps and cosmetics.

Redcedar is frequently grown as a landscape tree to provide natural fencing, soil stabilization, and wind protection. The trees withstand extreme drought, heat, and wind. Midwestern shelterbelts and mine reclamation sites are common places for redcedar plantings. They are also grown as a popular Christmas tree species because of their attractive, fragrant foliage.

Herbalists use redcedar to treat arthritis, rheumatism, bronchitis, asthma, and colds. The leaves have been used to treat skin rashes or steeped into a tea to calm nerves, relieve headaches, or even cure bad dreams!


 

Identifying Characteristics

Size/Form: Eastern redcedar is a small to medium-sized evergreen, with a short, bushy trunk and dense, low branches. The trees have a tapered, narrowly pyramidal shape and grow to heights of 40 to 50 feet, 1 to 2 feet in diameter. The root system is deep.
Leaves: The trees produce two types of leaves. Young leaves are awl-shaped, oppositely arranged and stick out along small branches. Older leaves are tiny, scale-like, triangular-shaped, and appressed (closely over-lapping) in a 2 or 4-ranked pattern along the branches. Both are dark to light green in color, but the older leaves have a silvery-white cast. All leaves turn brown eventually and may persist on the tree for several seasons.
Twigs: The twigs are angled and reddish-brown.
Bark: The bark is reddish-brown and shreds easily into long, thin strips.
Pollen/Seed Cones: The eastern redcedar is a dioecious species but may occasionally be monoecious. The yellow-brown male pollen cones are small and occur in large groups. The female seed cones are light blue-green in color.
Seeds: The seed is about ΒΌ inch wide, with a waxy, blue, resinous coating. The seeds are about 1/6 inch long, sharp pointed, and wingless, and they persist on the tree through winter.
Similar Trees on the Florida 4-H Forest Ecology Contest List:
  • None. This is the only tree on our list with scale-like leaves.

 

Images

Click on any thumbnail to see a photo. Use left and right arrows to navigate. Use "esc" to exit the lightbox.

 

Learn More