If you’re driving down an expressway and see some trees or shrubs that look reddish, particularly in the winter, they are probably Eastern Red Cedars. They frequently grow in abandoned fields or grass plains along the sides of expressways. Easily noticed by their brownish-red foliage in the winter, these are surprisingly common all along the eastern United States. Several subspecies and varies exist, partly because Red Cedars are so well adapted to North American climates.
Juniperus virginiana (Eastern Red Cedar, Red Cedar)
Hardiness Zones: 2-9
Height: 30-65 feet at maturity (rarely get past 40 feet tall)
Diameter: 8-25 feet at maturity (rarely exceed 15 feet wide)
Growth Rate: fast (shoots in particular grow quickly)
Age: typically live to be about 150 years old (potentially up to 300 years, with the oldest living specimen recorded at 940 years old)
Root System: Forms quick-growing, fibrous root systems in shallow soils. Taproots may grow if the soil permits. Growth occurs primarily under the soil at a very fast pace, which temporarily slows above ground growth. Limestone soils accelerate root growth.
Subspecies: ‘Burkii’ (smaller, does not get along with apple trees), ‘Grey Owl’ (very small, usually up to 1 meter tall and 2 meters wide), ‘Hillspire’ (intolerant of wet soils, bright green foliage, smaller), ‘Taylor’ (upright, columnar, silver-blue foliage, needle-like juvenile foliage, scale-like adult foliage), ‘Canaertii’ (profuse cone production, ‘Hetzii’ (very small, retains color in winter, grown as a hedge), ‘Emerald Sentinel’ (dark-green foliage), ‘Glauca’ (bluish needles – similar to ‘Manhattan Blue’), ‘Pendula’ (has pendulous branches, grow up to 40 feet tall)
Tolerates: extremely drought tolerant, deer, erosion, dry soil, shallow soil, rocky soil, air pollution, strong winds, black walnut
Problems (major): nematodes and grubs attack roots, typically intolerant of shade (but has been reported to survive in densely shaded areas), ice coating severely damages these trees
Problems (minor): Bagworms, Twig blight, Juniper scale, Juniper webworm, Cedar apple rust is common
Poisonous: The needles and cones contain volatile oils, such as thujone. Ingesting berries and foliage can lead to diarrhea. Also contains a poisonous antitumor compound known as podophyllotoxin.
Soil requirements: Prefers moist soils but is very drought tolerant. Acidity should remain between 6.8 and 7.2 pH (4.7-7.8pH are acceptabe). Grows everywhere from dry, rocky areas to wet marshes. These can grow well in clay and loam soils.Frequently grows in glades (thin soils with frequent rock outcrops).
Air Requirements: pollution resistant
Watering requirement: prefers frequent watering but can survive times of drought
Sun requirement: full sun preferred, can tolerate part shade
Needles: The needles are scale-like (typical of junipers) and dark blue-green, turning more red-grayish in winter. Foliage, and general formation, starts off pyrimidal, becomes rounded closer to the ground (more cone-like), and eventually forms a columnar shape.
Cones (male): very small, about 1 centimeter in diameter
Cones (female): The female cones are small, round, light-blusih to dark-bluish, and fully mature the year they are produced. They look similar to berries and attract birds, the primary seed spreading animal.
Seeds require stratification: yes (stratify for 90-120 days after scarification with very hot water or other seed coat damage)
Monoecious or Dioecious: dioecious (separate male and female trees)
Bark is brownish with red or gray. When eastern red cedars detect competing vegetation, such as apple trees, it excretes toxic chemicals through its root that can kill other nearby plants.
Used commonly as hedges, windbreaks, and ornamentals. Extremely common along expressways and in open plains, especially in abandoned farmlands. Frequently made into bonsai. Commonly used as screens along interstates, highways, and sometimes suburban areas.
- Kershner, Bruce, and Craig Tufts. National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Trees of North America. New York: Sterling Pub., 2008. Print.
A medium-sized Eastern Red Cedar with trimmed lower branches
A mature Red Cedar roughly 7 meters (23 feet) tall
A juvenile Juniper about 30 centimeters (1 foot) tall
The three images provided were taken by me on 23 March 2014. They may be used for educational and informational purposes only, provided that either this article or this online journal is correctly cited.