Monday, February 7, 2011

Eastern White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis)

Every plant book begins by telling you that this really isn’t a true cedar like those of Lebanon, it is closely related to cypress.  I feel better now that’s out of the way, but the next thing they’ll mention is the plant is sometimes called Arborvitae, which means “tree of life.”  It is believed to be given this name because a tea brewed from its leaves contains vitamin C and can prevent and cure scurvy.   Arborvitae can be found in all shapes and sizes at garden centers.  In our local wetlands white cedar is a minor player, but in other parts of Wisconsin it is the dominant tree in many swamps.
White Cedar often forms dense stands that are important winter areas for white-tailed deer.  Deer will browse all the foliage they can reach leaving a distinctive browse line in the swamp, or in your garden.   When deer population are too high no cedar seedling will ever grow into a mature tree.  It has been said that without recruitment the cedar swamps in the North Woods may die out.  Maybe the current dip in the deer population will allow for a period of cedar recruitment.     
Cedar Cones
For many Native Americans the white cedar was and is a sacred tree with many uses.  The Chippewa used the wood for sturgeon spears , so if you’re looking to make a traditional spear go with cedar.  Cedar is still used for arrow shafts. Its wood is rot resistant and is used in fence posts, bird houses, and over my head 110 year old cedar shakes are keeping the snow out with the help of three or four layers of asphalt shingles.  Anybody want to help put on a new roof? 

More on White Cedar

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