Complete Guide To Eastern Red Cedar – What You NEED To Know


The Eastern Red Cedar is a medium-sized coniferous evergreen tree native to Eastern North America. Scientifically known as Juniperus virginiana, that grows 20-70′ tall in full sun and medium moist to dry sites. Growing up to 2′ per year in optimum conditions, it has a wide conical to pyramidal shape making it an excellent windbreak tree.

In this article:

What is Eastern Red Cedar

The Eastern Red Cedar is a common evergreen tree that commonly grows in open areas, ditches, cliffs, and fields of Eastern North America, particularly areas East of the Rocky Mountains. Reaching heights of 60-70′ tall, long-lived & fast growing make Eastern Red Cedar a popular choice as a windbreak for it’s wide conical shape and the fact that it is an evergreen.

It grows particularly well in soils derived of limestone, and can survive where many other trees cannot. Shallow rocky soils and cliffs are perfectly suitable for Eastern Red Cedar, although they will not reach full sizes, but can survive for hundreds of years nonetheless.[1]

Eastern Red Cedar clinging to shallow soil on a cliff, overlooking the Delaware River. Credit: Nicholas_T Flikr.

A valuable tree for the environment, much wildlife is attracted to Eastern Red Cedar, as it hosts over 40 species of insect, while birds eat the fruit it produces and build nests within the tree. Deer additionally browse the foliage. [1][2][3]

In general, Eastern Red Cedar is disease and pest free. However it is a host of Cedar Apple Rust, and thus should probably not be planted near Apple or other trees susceptible.

The beautiful red lumber from Eastern Red Cedar is aromatic, frequently being used in furniture, chests, closets, and dressers. It is also famously rot resistant and is suitable for decking and outdoor furniture.

Facts about Eastern Red Cedar

  • Hardy from USDA zones 2-9. Check your USDA zone here.
  • The Scientific Name of Eastern Red Cedar is Juniperus virginiana
  • Despite it’s common name, the Eastern Red Cedar isn’t a true cedar, but a Juniper
  • Eastern Red Cedars native range is all States and Canadian Provinces East of the Rocky Mountains
  • Numerous birds build nests or roost in Eastern Red Cedar
  • Many insects feed on the plant, and many birds/animals eat the berries
  • Eastern Red Cedar will grow 1-2′ per year in full sun and medium moisture that drains well
  • Do not plant Eastern Red Cedars close to your home, as they can catch fire more easily than other trees.

Native Range of Eastern Red Cedar

The native range of Eastern Red Cedar is Eastern North America, essentially anything East of the Rocky Mountains. It is cold hardy to zone 2 – making it one of the few trees that can grow that far North.

Native Range of the Eastern Red Cedar, Juniperus virginiana. Sources [1][2][4]

Natural Habitat

The natural habitat of Eastern Red Cedar is open fields, dry slopes, limestone bluffs and rocky edges, and the periphery of forests, ditches, and other disturbed areas. Frequently found growing along fences, the Eastern Red Cedar is a pioneering species. It grows quickly colonizing open areas.

Young saplings that were initially shaded by meadow grasses

It is successful at colonizing due to it’s fast growth rate, ability to survive in dry environments, and because it is able to photosynthesize in cold temperatures when other deciduous species are dormant.[5] However eventually, given enough time it is overtaken by taller species such as Oaks, Maples, and Hickories.[1]

Eastern Red Cedar Reference Table

Common NameEastern Red Cedar, Red Cedar, Red Juniper, Virginia Juniper
Scientific nameJuniperus virginiana
Height / Mature Size30-70′ (10-23 m)
Spacing/Spread8′-25′ (3-9 m)
Growth Rate6″-24″ per year (15-30 cm) – highly dependent on conditions
Light RequirementsFull sun – Part Sun
Soil TypesClay, Loam, Rocky, Sandy – almost any. It prefers poorer soils with rock, gravel.
MoistureMedium to dry soil, well draining
MaintenanceNone required
Typical UseWindbreak, forest, general landscaping
Fauna Associations42 different species of insects feed on Eastern Red Cedar.
Larval HostJuniper Hairstreak
Sowing Depth1/2” (12 mm)
StratificationPlant in summer, needs warm moist followed by cold moist
Native RangeEastern North America, USDA Hardiness Zones 2-9
Sources

What are the Benefits of Northern White Cedar

Fast Growth Rate

In optimum conditions the Eastern Red Cedar can grow up to 2′ per year (60 cm/yr). That means you can quickly establish mature trees compared to other slow growing species. It generally takes 20 years for maturity/establishment.

Evergreen

The year-round leaves of the Eastern Red Cedar mean that it will look great and provide some color for all seasons. And it can be absolutely gorgeous in the Winter covered in snow fall.

Eastern Red Cedars after a fresh snow

Windbreak

The wide conical shape of Eastern Red Cedars make it an ideal windbreak. It has been promoted as such by various Midwest conservation agencies.

Wildlife

The Eastern Red Cedar is one of the best trees to grow for attracting birds. Fruit eating birds such as Robins and the Cedar Waxwing (named after the tree) voraciously consume the fruits. Research by biologists Holthuijzen and Anthonie in the 1980’s, showed single Cedar Waxwing bird needs to consume approximately 1159 fruit to meet their daily energy requirements, and that an individual seed will pass through the bird in 12 minutes.[6]

Grow and Care for White Cedar

Sunlight Requirements

Eastern Red Cedar will grow best in full sun, which is at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. It can grow in partial sun, but will not grow as quickly.

Soil Requirements

For soil, Eastern Red Cedar grows great in infertile rocky poor soil. It often inhabits limestone bluffs where other trees have difficulty growing. While not too picky in regards to texture, the soil must drain well.

Moisture Requirements

Eastern Red Cedar grows well in dry to medium-moist soils that drain well. It is not tolerant of moist soil or flooding.

Fertilizer

Eastern Red Cedar should not require any supplemental fertilizer. It grows well in the poorest of soils.

Maintenance

There is no ‘required’ maintenance of Eastern Red Cedar. As a native, if it is planted in a location that matches it’s growing preferences (full sun / well-drained soil), it should thrive. However, you can prune/shape the tree to your liking.

Eastern Red Cedar spreading aggressively

The Eastern Red Cedar can spread aggressively in open areas, fields, and pastures through colonization via seed dispersal from birds. Due to the large number of species of birds and the amount of Red Cedar fruits they consume, a large number of seeds will be distributed every year. (See above section on seed dispersal!)[6]

Technically, no plant can be invasive in an area where it is native – it just isn’t logical. However, it can be aggressive.

And, as stated before about the high seed consumption rate by Cedar Waxwings and other fruit-eating birds, combined with the quick digestion time (12 minutes), that means a lot of seeds will fall in the general area of an established Red Cedar. When you think about how birds like to perch on fence posts, then it seems even more logical why Eastern Red Cedar trees tend to follow fence lines!

Identification and Characteristics of White Cedar

Mature specimens typically reach 30-70′ tall (9-21 m) and have a ovoid, conical, to pyramidal crown. Like most evergreens it has frequent branching, some of which may be ascending while most are spreading. It the best sites, trees as tall as 120′ (37m) have been recorded. [1]

Eastern Red Cedar with pyramidal crown

Stalk / Bark

Bark of Eastern Red Cedar is brown to red, thin, and will peal off in linear strips. For very old specimens it may be thick and gray.

Bark of the Eastern Red Cedar Tree, Juniperus virginiana

Leaf

Young Eastern Red Cedar trees (< 4 years old) will produce linear awl-shaped leaves that resemble needles that are 1/8″-1/2″ long. After 4 years of growth it will produce scale-shaped leaves which are smaller, being 1/16″-1/8″ long. The color will range from deep green to blue/green in summer, to pale green/yellow in winter depending on conditions.

Flowers

Eastern Red Cedar has both male and female trees (dioecious), making cones that produce pollen on the males and seed cones for the females.

On Eastern Red Cedar trees, the male cones are yellow and roughly 1/8″ long and occur at the tips of the branches. The female cones are green when young and blue when mature, and are roughly 1/4″ diameter. They resemble small blue berries. The female cone will hold 1-3 seeds that are ~ 1/8″ long.

Eastern Red Cedar cones

As a general rule, male trees will be taller and have larger diameter trunks than female trees, indicating that significant energy is required to produce the female cones.[7] Initially cones are green, changing to a blue color as they mature. Trees can start producing fruit in as little as 10 years.[1] Each fruit will contain several small seeds.

Fruit

The fruit of Eastern Red Cedar is 3/16″ to 1/4″ diameter (4-6mm), starting as a green color and changing to a blue/purple to gray color by Winter. Berries are high in fat and carbohydrates making them an important food source to many birds and animals. Each berry will have 1-3 seeds in them. Seeds are 1.5 mm wide by 3 mm long and a brown/red color.

Saving seed

You can save seed from the Eastern Red Cedar by collecting the purple berries in Fall to Winter. Seed should be treated and sown the same year, as viability decreases precipitously from one year to the next. [8] But seed can removed and cleaned from the berries, and then stored in the fridge. Or, you can just leave the seed right inside the berries as well. [1]

Close up of seed (left) and fruit of Eastern Red Cedar. The scale is 1/16″ of an inch (~1.5 mm)

Root

The root system of Eastern Red Cedar is a shallow, spreading root. The roots of Eastern Red Cedar are non-damaging making it ok to use as a street tree or planting near foundations, sidewalks, and driveways.[9]

Lifespan

Eastern Red Cedar trees can live for up to 900 years. So, depending on where it grows, it could outlast almost any other tree.

Growth Rate

The growth rate of Eastern Red Cedar is highly variable depending on conditions. In optimum conditions in a residential setting, growth rates of 2′ per year (60 cm) can be achieved. Typically Eastern Red Cedars are considered mature at 20 years, while they can begin fruiting in as little as 10 years.[1]

More commonly in the wild such as abandoned fields and ditches, growth rates of 1-1.5′ per year occur.[1][10][11] But it is highly dependent on conditions. On limestone cliffs surveys have found trees over 400 years old that were barely 2 meters tall. While along the edge of an old field trees can grow over 80′ tall in 60 years. [12]

Eastern Red Cedar can be aggressive

The Eastern Red Cedar can spread aggressively in open areas, fields, and pastures through colonization via seed dispersal from birds. Due to the large number of species of birds and the amount of Red Cedar fruits they consume, a large number of seeds will be distributed every year. (See above section on seed dispersal!) [6][13]

Technically, no plant can be invasive in an area where it is native – it just isn’t logical. However, it can be aggressive.

And, as stated before about the high seed consumption rate by Cedar Waxwings and other fruit-eating birds, combined with the quick digestion time (12 minutes), that means a lot of seeds will fall in the general area of an established Red Cedar. When you think about how birds like to perch on fence posts, then it seems even more logical why Eastern Red Cedar trees tend to follow fence lines!

Northern White Cedar versus Eastern Red Cedar

Another native evergreen is sometimes confused for Eastern Red Cedar. Northern White Cedar, Thuja occidentalis, it a tall native evergreen that can resembled Eastern Red Cedar. Since both are commonly called ‘cedar’, this adds to the confusion.

But while both are evergreen, reach similar heights and are attractive to wildlife, they have some key differences. White Cedar will grow in moist areas while Red Cedar will prefer more dry locations. The shape is also different, with White Cedar having more of a pyramidal or columnar shape while Red Cedar is conical, ovoid, or oblongoid.

Comparison: Eastern Red Cedar vs Northern White Cedar

CharacteristicEastern Red CedarNorthern White Cedar
Image
Scientific NameJuniperus virginianaThuja occidentalis
Height30′-70′ 20-60′
Spread / Width8-25′10-15′
ShapeConical, ovoid, pyramidal or oblongoidPyramidal, columnar
LeafScale shaped leaves, 1/16″-1/8″ longSmall scale-like leaves, 1/16″ to 1/4″ long.
BarkGray, fibrous, comes off in stripsGray, or red-gray. Rough but vertically divided.
FruitSmall blue berries containing several seedsSmall cones containing several seeds
Typical HabitatSlopes, limestone bluffs, hillsides, upland woodsAlong waterways, near swamps/bogs. Or in some cases on limestone bluffs
Growing ConditionsFull sun / partial shade. Medium-moist to dry soilFull sun / partial shade. Moist to medium-moist soil

How to Grow Eastern Red Cedar from Seed

Much research has been done into germinating Eastern Red Cedar from seed. As previously described, birds are responsible for dispersing the seed. And the digestive juices of a birds stomach soften the outer coat, allowing it to easily germinate after a period of cold stratification. In a mere 12 minutes a seed has fully passed through a bird, and the seed coat softened enough to accept water.

In general, in order to germinate Eastern Red Cedar trees fresh seed should be used, as the viability declines exponentially with some studies showing the seed has less than a 6% viability at 14 months. Furthermore, the seed should be subjected to a treatment of acid scarification, followed by a warm stratification and then subsequent cold stratification. [1][8][14][24]

Steps to germinate Eastern Red Cedar

The seeds of Eastern Red Cedar need three treatments before they can break dormancy and germinate.

  1. Scarify the seed using Citric Acid
  2. Warm stratify the seed for 30-60 days
  3. Cold stratify the seed for 60 days

These three steps mimic what occurs when a bird eats the berry in early Fall. Their digestion process softens the seed coat, naturally scarifying the seed. Then the seed falls to the ground, which is generally moist in Fall, but soil temperatures are still warm. Finally it sits in the soil for the Winter, and then germinates in Spring.

Scarifying Eastern Red Cedar Seed

First, we have to scarify the seed (soften the seed coat). We will do this by soaking in a 0.1% citric acid solution.[24] Citric acid is available at many stores as it is used in canning as well as rust removal. You can find a link to it at our recommended products page.

Dilute one-eighth teaspoon of citric acid into four cups of water. Place your Eastern Red Cedar seeds in the solution for 48 hours. Afterwards, rinse the solution off under tap water.

Warm stratification

Next we are going to warm-stratify the Eastern Red Cedar seeds. Before doing this, make sure your hands are clean, and you have a very clean work surface (I often use a clean plate).

Take a full sheet paper towel and moisten it with water. It should be moist, but not dripping wet. If you squeeze it in your hand only a few drops should fall out.

Fold this paper towel in half, and then place your cedar seeds on one-half of it. Then, fold it in half again, so that the surface area is 1/4 of the original. Place this into a zip-lock bag and seal it (&label it).

Put your seeds in the baggy in a dark warm location for 4-6 weeks. Ideally you would like to have a surface that is around 80F. I am lucky in that my water heater just happens to be about this temperature. But the back of a refrigerator can also work. Check the bag weekly to make sure it doesn’t dry out and mold doesn’t form.

Cold stratification / winter sowing

After scarifying, and warm stratifying the seeds, it is now time to cold stratify them. To do this you can either transfer your bag with seeds to the fridge for 60 days, or simply Winter Sow the seed. See here for cold stratifying in the refrigerator and here for Winter Sowing. Whichever method you choose, just make sure it can reach two months of cold treatment.

Planting seeds

The planting depth of Eastern Red Cedar seeds 1/8-1/4″ deep (3-6 mm). The seeds are tiny, and thus need to be planted shallow.

Germination

You can expect your Eastern Red Cedar seeds to germinate in Spring once soil temperatures begin to warm up. My first trees I germinated occurred around the first week of May in zone 6.

My Eastern Red Cedar seed experiment

I myself made a small experiment to test various treatments of the seeds. Using samples of 20 seeds each, I made the following three treatments:

  • TREATMENT 1 – 48 hours soak in hot tap water, followed by 30 days warm stratification at 80F, then Winter Sowed
  • TREATMENT 2 – 48 hours soak in 0.05% citric acid (then rinse), followed by 30 days warm stratification at 80F, then Winter Sowed
  • TREATMENT 3 – Mechanical scarification (light sanding), followed by Winter Sowing

All seeds were Winter Sowed on 12FEB2022 in milk jugs with ProMIX potting soil. The first germination was noted on 09MAY2022. I allowed the seeds to continue until 30MAY, when I recorded my final results.

Cotyledons of Eastern Red Cedar

The germination rates were disappointing in all three treatments, but nonetheless I did get some significant results.

Treatment# GerminatedGR%
TREATMENT 1 – Hot Water Soak / Warm Strat / Winter Sow210%
TREATMENT 2 – Citric Acid / Warm Strat. / Winter Sow840%
TREATMETN 3 – Mech. Scarification / Winter Sow15%
Eastern Red Cedar seedlings. 8/20 seeds germinated with a 24 hours soak of 0.05% citric acid

The results were significant, with the 24 hour Citric Acid soak proving to be the most effective for germination. Although I took care to record my results, further replication of treatments would be beneficial, as well as another treatment of acid without warm stratification. As seeds eaten by birds obviously don’t receive warm stratification, but it is possible that they need a year on the ground (warm stratification) before germinating the following Spring.

Eastern Red Cedar seedlings in September, approximately 3 months old.

Transplanting Eastern Red Cedar saplings

Eastern Red Cedar saplings should be planted either in Spring, several weeks after germination. Or, planted in Fall when soil temperatures are more reliably moist and cool. Saplings should be protected with a tree shelter or cage to protect them from deer and rabbits.

But, to transplant an Eastern Red Cedar sapling, simply dig a hole 50% wider than the pot, and the same depth. Fill the hole with water and wait for it to fully drain, then repeat this step. Also, it can be beneficial to add a handful of compost to the hole. Plant the sapling, backfilling carefully, and do not mulch up to the trunk.

Wildlife, Insects, and Diseases associated with Eastern Red Cedar

Pollinators

More than 40 different species of butterfly, moth, and other insects feed on Eastern Red Cedar trees, making it a valuable part of the ecosystem. The caterpillars of these insects feed numerous species of birds throughout the growing season.[1][9]

Birds

Many species of birds are attracted to the berries of Eastern Red Cedar. Numerous species such as the Cedar Waxwing, Robin, Turkey, Quail, Flicker, and Blue Jay. In fact, the Cedar Waxwing was named after the Eastern Red Cedar![1][6][13]

Cedar Waxwings love the fruit of Eastern Red Cedar

Numerous birds use Eastern Red Cedar for nests including, Blue Jays, Cooper’s Hawk, Finches, Mockingbirds, Robin, Sparrows, and Warblers. You also have various birds roosting in this tree such as owls, hawks, and songbirds.[1][2]

Deer/Rabbits

Deer will browse the foliage of Eastern Red Cedar, and rabbits will browse young saplings. This is valuable forage in Winter when other food is scarce. If you are growing young specimens though, you should protect them with shelters, cages, netting, or Liquid Fence.[1]

Pests

When it comes to pests, bagworms will infest and eat the foliage, as well as Spruce Spider Mites. This can result in complete defoliation.[9]

There are bark beetles and wood boring insects that can attack the trees, but generally are not serious unless combined with root rot fungus.[1]

A gall insect, the Juniper Midge bores holes into twigs at the base of needles. Several other weevils feed on roots or leaves, along with the Juniper webworm. There is also a leaf-roller insect that is quite a sight when slowly walking along the ground, wrapped in the leaves.

A gall on an Eastern Red Cedar

Juniper scale can infect the tree will cause the needles to turn yellow and branches to quit growing. The round scale will initially be white, eventually changing to black or gray. [9]

Disease

The biggest risk to the Eastern Red Cedar is root rot fungus. This can be fatal, and is all the more reason to keep Eastern Red Cedar in well-draining soil, away from bottom lands or soggy areas.

Eastern Red Cedar trees are susceptible to some leaf fungi such as Cedar Rust or Cedar Apple Rust. Cedar Apple Rust can transfer to fruit bearing Apple trees. To minimize the chances of this afflicting your tree, plant in full sun and good exposure to wind & airflow.[1][9]

Occasionally twig blight can infect a branch and if unchecked, cause the death of the branch. The main symptom is that the tips turn brown.

Where you can buy Eastern Red Cedar

Northern White Cedar as a straight species is not typically sold in nurseries. But it can be purchased at specialty nurseries that deal in Native Plants. You can find native plant nurseries near you on our interactive map. Also, this tree is frequently available as a bare root, which is about the cheapest way to obtain trees if you are buying multiple.

Varieties of Eastern Red Cedar

Due to it’s attractive qualities and fast growth rate, several cultivars and selected varieties of Eastern Red Cedar exist. These are more widely available than the straight species. [2][3][9]

Twelve common varieties of Eastern Red Cedar

  • ‘Burkii’ is a shorter cultivar, 15-25′ tall with blue foliage and a pyramidal shape.
  • ‘Canaert’ is a smaller, 20-35′ tall cultivar with excellent drought resistance
  • ‘Hillspire’ has foliage with a nice shade of green
  • ‘Elegantissima’ has yellow tips on the branches
  • ‘Filifera’ has a byramidal shape, divided branches, and a gray-green foliage color.
  • ‘Gluca’ is of a narrow, columnar shape 15-20′ tall with blue/silver foliage
  • ‘Ketlerii’ – has more space between branches and a pyramidal shape
  • ‘Manhattan Blue’ is a small, 20′ tall pyramidal shaped cultivar with blue-green foliage
  • ‘Pendula’ has branches that sort of droop like a pendulum
  • ‘Pyramidalis Dundee’ is a pyramidal shaped varieties with purple-green foliage in winter
  • ‘Skyrocket’ is narrow and columnar shaped (like a rocket) with silver-blue foliage
  • ‘Taylor’ is a cultivar developed in Nebraska with a columnar form with a growth rate of 20′ or more. Can make a great hedge.

Uses of Eastern Red Cedar

Landscaping / Windbreak

Eastern Red Cedar trees are often used for general landscaping or windbreaks. Early pioneers would plant seeds to make natural windbreaks in the great plains. The large shape and evergreen leaves make Eastern Red Cedar effective at stopping or slowing down wind.[1]

But these shapely evergreen trees can also make a very nice addition to any lawn or suburban landscaping. It should be encouraged over other more common landscaping trees that are invasive or non-native. The sight of a Red Cedar blanketed with snow is beautiful enough for postcards and a great example of Mother Nature’s art.

Wood Products

With dark shades of red, Eastern Red Cedar is some of the most beautiful lumber in North America. Generally it isn’t desirable as the numerous knots make if a bit difficult to work, but for crafts and hobbyists it can be used to create beautiful projects.

A board of Eastern Red Cedar lumber that I planed smooth by hand. Gorgeous.

But, Eastern Red Cedar lumber has been a favorite choice for chests, closets, and dressers for centuries. The aromatic properties can keep insects away, and gives off a pleasant smell of it’s own. Sometimes chest interiors may be lined with the wood for this reason, even if it wasn’t the primary building material.[15]

Rot Resistance

The Eastern Red Cedar is one of, if not THE best wood for outdoor applications such as fence posts, furniture, and decking. An 8-year long study in Wisconsin showed that Eastern Red Cedar performed better than all other specimens in terms of checking, cupping, and general rot-resistance.[16] The conclusion is that Eastern Red Cedar is better than Western Cedar, Southern Yellow Pine, Poplar, and it even preformed better than Black Locust.

Eastern Red Cedar companion plants

To figure out if a plant will grow well with Eastern Red Cedar, you need to look to species that prefer or can tolerate the same or similar growing conditions. So, this would be full sun, well-drained soil.

If selecting other trees to pair with Eastern Red Cedar, one should remember that it is a pioneer species that generally tops out at 60′. So, if you select trees with taller heights, eventually they may shade out the Cedar, causing it to die. The list below contains trees and shrubs that can grow with Eastern Red Cedar, but will not shade it out.

Trees that grow well with Eastern Red Cedar

  • Evergreen species
    • Inkberry (evergreen, small shrub)
    • American Holly
    • Mountain Laurel
    • Canada Yew
  • Flowering deciduous hardwoods and shrubs
  • Smaller deciduous shrubs
    • Winterberry
    • Bear Oak or Scrub Oak

Plants that grow well under Eastern Red Cedar

There are several native plants that can be grown underneath Eastern Red Cedar (assuming it is pruned high enough). Each of these likes well-drained acidic soil, and will do well in the shade. Obtaining seed or plants for some of these could be challenging though.

  • Prairie Alum Root
  • Teaberry, or Eastern Teaberry
  • Partridge Berry
  • Spotted Wintergreen
  • Foam Flower
  • Fly Poison

One addition to this list should be American Bittersweet. It colonizes Eastern Red Cedar nicely and it’s presence can mean a variety of food for the Waxwings!

American Bittersweet growing on an Eastern Red Cedar

Native American Uses of Eastern Red Cedar

There are over 106 uses of Eastern Red Cedar by Native Americans spread out across 19 different tribes [2][17]. Some common uses included:

  • Cold remedy (infusion)
  • Cough medicine – decoction was taken to treat coughs
  • Dermatological Aid for itchy skin, and other skin conditions
  • Insecticide, as it was known to repel many insects
  • Rheumatism. A decoction of twigs would be used.
  • Berries eaten for food
  • Decoction of needles used as a wash for Cholera
  • Cedar boughs were used to ‘ward off lightning’
  • Food – berries were used as flavoring

The wood was also used for furniture and carving.

Food

The berries are edible and have a nice flavor. Although I personally have not eaten the seed. But if I encounter ripe blue berries while hiking, I often will grab a small handful and crush them in my mouth, swallowing the must but spitting out the seed. It tastes nice, much better than Spicebush.

Gin

The berries are used in the flavoring of gin.[18][19] Fruits are typically harvested in Fall through Winter by stripping the branches, or laying down a tarp and shaking the tree. Gin flavored with berries from Eastern Red Cedar has been found to have antioxidant properties, which is something to remember when ordering from the bar!

Essential oil & medical uses

Modern medicine has been investigating the medicinal properties of Eastern Red Cedar, often finding validation in the medical uses that Native Americans have known for thousands of years. This has primarily been from extracting essential oils from leaves and heartwood.[20]

The leaves of Eastern Red Cedar contain podophyllotoxin, which is used in the production of creams used to treat molluscum contagiosum and HPV infections.[21] Additionally essential oils from the heartwood have been found to have anti-inflammatory properties and could also be a topical treatment for wounds. [22]

Essential oil as an anti-mosquito compound

The essential oil has been investigated as an insect repellent, for use against malaria carrying mosquitos. Considering what potential risks could occur from prolonged use of synthetic compounds such as DEET, it would be welcome news if natural essential oils from Eastern Red Cedar could be used to repel mosquitos and other pests. [23]

Final thoughts

The Eastern Red Cedar is a great tree to grow for attracting birds, hosting insects, providing cover, and for a food/medicinal source. It’s fast growth rate and adaptability to various growing conditions make it versatile for homeowners and municipalities alike. The fact that pests and disease is rarely a problem further make this trouble free tree a great choice for landscaping that also benefits wildlife.

Find more native trees here

References:

[1] – Lawson, Edwin R. “Juniperus virginiana L. eastern redcedar.” Silvics of North America 1 (1990): 131-140.

[2] – Stevens, Michelle, Kaiser, J., Dozier, I. “EASTERN RED CEDAR“, NRCS Plant Guide. USDA.

[3] – USDA NRCS Plant Fact Sheet. “EASTERN REDCEDAR“. Accessed January 2022.

[4] – ‘Juniperus virginiana L.eastern redcedar‘, USDA NRCS. Accessed 14JAN2023

[5] – Ormsbee, P., Bazzaz, F.A. & Boggess, W.R. Physiological ecology of Juniperus virginiana in oldfields. Oecologia 23, 75–82 (1976). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00351216. Retrieved 24SEP2020

[6] – Anthonie M. A. Holthuijzen, and Curtis S. Adkisson. “Passage Rate, Energetics, and Utilization Efficiency of the Cedar Waxwing.” The Wilson Bulletin, vol. 96, no. 4, Wilson Ornithological Society, 1984, pp. 680–84, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4162001.

[7] – S. A. Vasiliauskas L. W. Aarssen. Sex Ratio and Neighbor Effects in Monospecific Stands of Juniperus Virginiana. Ecology Society of America, Volume73, Issue2, April 1992, Pages 622-632. https://doi.org/10.2307/1940768. Retrieved 25SEP2020

[8] – Anthonie M. A. Holthuijzen, and Terry L. Sharik. “Seed Longevity and Mechanisms of Regeneration of Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus Virginiana L.).” Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club, vol. 111, no. 2, 1984, pp. 153–58. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/2996014. Accessed 14 Jan. 2023.

[9] – Gilman, Edward F., and Dennis G. Watson. “Juniperus virginiana: Eastern redcedar.” University of Florida IFAS Extension ENH-486 (2003): 1-5.

[10] – Briggs, John M., Greg A. Hoch, and Loretta C. Johnson. “Assessing the rate, mechanisms, and consequences of the conversion of tallgrass prairie to Juniperus virginiana forest.” Ecosystems 5.6 (2002): 578-586.

[11] – Schmidt, Thomas L., and Tom D. Wardle. “Impact of pruning eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana).” Western Journal of Applied Forestry 17.4 (2002): 189-193.

[12] – Larson, Douglas W. “Dendroecological potential of Juniperus virginiana L. growing on cliffs in western Virginia.” Banisteria 10 (1997): 13-18.

[13] – Anthonie M. A. Holthuijzen and , Terry L. Sharik. The avian seed dispersal system of eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana). Canadian Journal of Botany, 1985, 63(9): 1508-1515, https://doi.org/10.1139/b85-208 Retrieved 25SEP2020

[14] – Dean A. Pack. After-Ripening and Germination of Juniperus Seeds. International Journal of Plant Sciences. Volume 71, Number 1, Jan., 1921. https://doi.org/10.1086/332788

[15] – P. Kasemsiria, S. Hiziroglub, S. Rimdusita. Characterization of heat treated eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana L.). Journal of Materials Processing Technology, Volume 212, Issue 6, June 2012, Pages 1324-1330 Retrieved 25SEP2020

[16] – Kirker, Grant, Amy Bishell, and Stan Lebow. “Above and in-ground performance of naturally-durable woods in Wisconsin.” In: McCown, C.; Branton, K., eds. Proceedings, One hundred fourteenth annual meeting, American wood protection association. Birmingham, AL: American Wood Protection Association: 272-277. 2018.

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[19] – Adams, Robert P. “Juniperus of Canada and the United States: taxonomy, key and distribution.” Lundellia 21.1 (2019): 1-34.

[20] – Stewart, Chelsey D., Chelsea D. Jones, and William N. Setzer. “Essential oil compositions of Juniperus virginiana and Pinus virginiana, two important trees in Cherokee traditional medicine.” Am. J. Essent. Oil Nat. Prod 2 (2014): 17-24.

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[23] – Tahghighi, Azar, et al. “GC–MS analysis and anti–mosquito activities of Juniperus virginiana essential oil against Anopheles stephensi (Diptera: Culicidae).” Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine 9.4 (2019): 168.

[24] – Van Haverbeke, David F. Effects of treatment and seed source on germination of eastern redcedar seed. Vol. 263. US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, 1985.

Joe Foster

Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over 10 years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! You may have seen some of my videos I create on our YouTube channel, GrowitBuildit (more than 10 million views!). You can find my channel here: https://youtube.com/@growitbuildit Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!

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