Eastern Redcedar

Eastern Redcedar tree.

Eastern Redcedar Coniferous

Juniperus virginiana

Eastern redcedar is a native tree that has long been popular in windbreaks, shelterbelts, and conservation plantings. Due to lack of management and naturally-occurring wildfires, it has spread outside of its usual habitat into grasslands and riparian forests. Redcedar should be used with caution and planted only where needed for quick sheltering or where little else will grow. Management plans/practices should be in place prior to planting. 

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Where To Grow

This species has a wide distribution and is found on many types of soil ranging from acid sands to those derived from limestone. It does best on dry soils in full sunlight and is winter hardy and tolerant of droughty and salty soils. Like most junipers, it is slow growing and is moderately long-lived. Red cedars are often used as ornamentals for their evergreen foliage. Most cemetery plantings include old red cedar trees and many younger dwarf junipers. 
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Suitable to plant throughout the state. Plans for long-term management of new seedling growth must be developed. 
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Size at Maturity

Tree Height Tree Spread
40' 30'
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Tree Characteristics

A small evergreen tree, commonly 10 to 40 feet, of pyramidal shape becoming rounder in age. Fruits pale-blue with whitish bloom, fleshy ‘berries’ (cones), 1/4 inch diameter, ripening the first season, seeds 1 to 2 in each cone, bony-coated; flowers small, cone-like on end of short twigs, male and female borne on separate plants. Leaves opposite, scalelike, covering older twigs closely in alternating pairs to 1/8 inch long, on new shoots awl shaped, sharp pointed and spreading, 1/4 inch long, dark green. Stem single with upright or spreading branches, bark reddishbrown, thin and shreddy, branchlets very slender; roots deep, widely spreading.

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Wildlife Benefits

Red cedar and other junipers are important to wildlife throughout the country. Winter food and protection is particularly important for pheasant, mule deer, and whitetail deer. Their twigs and foliage are eaten extensively by hoofed browsers, but the chief attraction to wildlife is the bluish-black berry-like fruit. The cedar waxwing is one of the principal users of red cedar berries, but numerous other birds and mammals, both large and small, make these fruits an important part of their diet. In addition to their wildlife food value, cedars provide important protective and nesting cover. Chipping sparrows, robins, song sparrows, and mockingbirds use these trees as one of their favorite nesting sites. Juncos, myrtle warblers, sparrows of various kinds, and other birds use the dense foliage as roosting cover. In winter, their dense protective shelter is especially valuable.

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Additional Considerations

Changes in land management over several decades allowed eastern redcedar to escape its typical habitat and move into grasslands and riparian forests. The tree still possesses benefits for multi-row or single-row windbreak plantings. However, landowners must plan to actively manage new seedling growth on their property for the life of the planting.  

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Interesting Facts

  • For numerous Native American Tribes, the red cedar tree symbolizes the tree of life and is burned in sweat lodges and in purification rites.
  • The distilled oil of the red cedar has been officially listed as a reagent in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia since 1916.
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