by Ann Farnham, LLA
We miss the foliage of our beautiful deciduous trees at this time of the year and look at our evergreens with more respect: the pines, hollies, firs, spruces, cedars and junipers stand out.
Perhaps one of the least appreciated of the needled evergreens is our native (to 37 states) Eastern Red Cedar, Juniperus virginiana. It is very hardy, withstanding all sorts of conditions, (rocky or clay soil, drought, wet areas, deer, erosion, air pollution) and spreads readily by birds and mammals disseminating the easy-germinating, tasty seeds everywhere.
This tree has many present day uses. The fragrant wood repels moths so is used to line closets and chests; the heartwood is rot resistant and is popular for shingles, furniture and fencing; wind breaks; hedges; foundation plants; perfumes; a flavoring for gin; and medicinal applications. Prior to the 1940s it was the wood used in pencils. Years ago it was a favorite for building log cabins and coffins. It is used now, especially in the South, as a Christmas tree.
Van Cotter, one of the Ewing Environmental Commission’s early members, said, “My wife and I would tie ropes to both ends of a red cedar tree and pull it up and down the chimney of our Virginia home, with me on the roof and her by the fireplace. It did a good job of cleaning the chimney.”
Our native Americans used Red Cedar as an antiseptic, for rheumatism relief, childbirth recovery, coughs, intestinal worms, canker sores and to help cure mumps. We know now that it can be toxic in inappropriate doses.
Wildlife also loves Red Cedar. It provides year- round dense shelter and the blue-grey, succulent berries seem irresistible. Cedar Waxwings were named for this favorite food ( juniper is not a true cedar, however) and French traders named the city of Baton Rouge after it: in French, Baton Rouge means “Red Stick”, of which there were many. The bark of the tree is grey to reddish-brown.
This tree can reach 30’ to 60’ in height with a spread of 8’ to 25’, depending on the variety. It is usually broadly conical to columnar with dense, horizontal branching. Easy to transplant, it prefers a dry to medium, well-drained moist soil, and full sun. The trees are dioecious, meaning that they are either male or female, usually not both. The berries, of course, are borne on the female trees. Foliage is flat, scale-like and prickly.
The biggest Red Cedar problem seems to be Cedar Apple Rust and Bag Worms. The Red Cedar is an alternate host to a serious fungus that affects apple trees; do not plant them near apple or crabapple trees as the fungus is hard to control. Bag worms “bags” can be removed easily from small and few trees, but this should be done as soon as they appear. Bag Worm homes can easily be mistaken for cones; although birds do a good job eating the larvae, and if hand picking does not work, call your Cooperative Extension Service for advice on insecticides and timing.
Most Red Cedars become brown-to rust colored in the winter, losing their normal green color. However, there are many cultivated varieties (cvs) today which retain the green color all winter, such as ‘Corcorcor’, ‘Canaertii’, ‘Emerald Sentinel’, and ‘Hillspire’, among many others. A wide variety of green tones (grey-green to blue-green) are also available. There are also shrub and groundcover cultivars of Juniperus virginiana in many garden centers and nurseries.
The Ewing Environmental Commission welcomes suggestions for the Plant of the Month from all Ewing residents.
To calculate the value that trees add to your property, go to treebenefits.com/calculator/.