Characteristics of Red Cedar Tree (Juniperus virginiana) in the Wild

Juniperus virginiana
Red cedar or Eastern redcedar is a species of juniper tree native to eastern North America. The tree is closely related to Rocky Mountain Juniper (Juniperus scopulorum) and Ashe Juniper (Juniperus ashei).

The east juniper is a pioneer tree, meaning that it is one of the first trees to re-populate logged, eroded, or degraded land. The tree has a very long life, it is known that each Red cedar tree can live more than 900 years.

Red cedars are usually found in old meadows or limestone hillsides, occasionally being found growing along roadways and near human settlements recently.

However, these trees are often cut down for land acquisition or reforestation. Red cedar trees have a bad effect on other plants around them because they have shady foliage that makes it difficult for the plants underneath to photosynthesize. It also drops leaves which over time rot and are absorbed by the soil, which causes the soil pH to rise and makes the soil alkaline, making it difficult for other plants underneath to absorb it.


Characteristics of Red Cedar Leaf

Juniperus virginiana Leaf
Source : Botanic Garden

The leaves are of two types, juvenile leaves are sharp and spread like needles along 5-10 mm long, mature leaves are long and dense like scales 2-4 mm long. The leaves grow in pairs, opposites, or sometimes triangles.

Juvenile leaves occur only on young trees and occasionally appear on the tops of mature trees (usually in the shade).


Characteristics of Red Cedar Fruit

Juniperus virginiana Fruit
Source : Hunt

The fruit is 3-7 mm long, like small berries, dark purple, or blue with white wax. Each fruit contains 1-3 (rarely 4) seeds and ripens in 6-8 months.


Characteristics of Red Cedar Tree

Juniperus virginiana Tree
Source : A. Tonelli

The red cedar tree is a slow-growing coniferous shrub that does well in poor soil. This tree usually grows 5-20 meters tall, with many short stems 30-100 cm long.

The bark is reddish-brown, fibrous, and rough. The wood itself is smooth, pink to brownish, fragrant, light, and very durable. Due to its good quality, red cedar wood is often used to make fence posts, bows, wardrobes, and more. In commerce, red cedar was called “eastern redcedar” or “aromatic cedar”.

Some cultivars of Juniperus virginiana have been selected as ornamental garden trees, including:

  • Juniperus virginiana ‘Canaertii’
  • Juniperus virginiana ‘Corcorcor’
  • Juniperus virginiana ‘Goldspire’
  • Juniperus virginiana ‘Kobold’

In Missouri, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, the red cedar tree is commonly used as a Christmas tree.


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