Atlantic White Cedar – Chamaecyparis thyoides

false_cypress_closeupby Ann Farnham, LLA

Atlantic White Cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides) , also known as False Cypress, is not usually the handsomest specimen that we normally seek out for our gardens. Indeed, in its maturity almost ¾ of its trunk is bare of branches. It will reach 40 to 50’ high and 10-20’ in width. However, this native tree does have some good varieties which bear checking out. The tree is extremely useful.

A needled evergreen, Chamaecyparis thyoides requires very wet conditions: bogs, swamps, low spots, swales, and stream and lake sides. They are ubiquitous throughout the Eastern United States along a narrow band at the Atlantic coast from Maine to Florida, forming coastal buffers and stabilizing areas which might otherwise be bare. They require full sun and lower elevations as well as abundant water. Extensively used today in planting detention basins, bioretention swales, low spots in parks and gardens and other perpetually wet places, you will recognize them in many areas in Ewing.

These trees may be confused with Arborvitaes, but they do not share the same type habitat and the foliage and habit are quite different. False Cypress has scaly leaves in a flat, fern-like appearance, which are pointed at the tip. The paired leaves are bluish-green with white margins. The young tree shape is more columnar than Arborvitae. Like Arborvitaes, they are foraged by deer.

false_cypressThe False Cypress produces many spherical, ¼” diameter cones which at first are green to purple and then turn brown. They are prolific seed bearers, producing millions of winged and light-weight seeds per acre which are very easily wind-borne. The seeds can remain viable and dormant for years, so poor conditions at germination time do not affect them. The result is very dense forests of these trees. One of the best known and beautiful stands is the White Cedar Swamp in the Cape Cod National Seashore where one can walk on an interpretive trail through the area.

Acid soils of pH 5.5 or less allow these trees to thrive. They are shallow rooted, however, and will topple in high winds and heavy snow or ice loads so care must be taken in their site selection. They harbor very few insect or disease pests.

The reddish-brown wood is used for fence posts, ties and shingles, and boat construction as it is moisture and decay resistant.

The Ewing Environmental Commission welcomes suggestions for the Tree of the Month from all Ewing residents.

Helpful Tree Links

  • To calculate the economic and ecological benefits of the trees on your property go to
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