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Sky Meadows Park
Crooked Run Valley
eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana)
Sabina virginiana (L.) Antoine
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Confirmed.
TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name of eastern
redcedar is Juniperus virginiana L. (Cupressaceae). The two recognized
varieties of this species are Juniperus virginiana var. virginiana and
southern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana var. silicicola (Small) J. Silba).
Some botanists describe southern redcedar as a variety of eastern red-
cedar based on similarity of morphological characteristics. However,
southern redcedar has previously been described and is still accepted by
some authors as a distinct species, Juniperus silicicola. This species
summary refers to both varieties of eastern redcedar; information specific
to variety is noted.
Hybrids occur between eastern redcedar and creeping juniper (Juniperus
horizontalis), eastern redcedar and Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus
scopulorum) and eastern redcedar and Ashe juniper (Juniperus ashei).
NATIVE STATUS: Native, United States and Canada.
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Eastern redcedar
is a relatively long-lived evergreen that may reach 450+ years. It has 2
distinct growth forms. The most familiar form is narrowly conical
with its branches growing up and out at a sharp angle to form a
compact tree. The 2nd form is broadly conical with branches that spread
widely. Both forms can be found throughout eastern redcedar's range.
Some authors describe the 2 forms in terms of age: young trees have the
narrowly pyramidal or columnar shape with crowns becoming open and
irregular as trees age. Others suggest differences in crown form are
attributed to variety, with Juniperus virginiana var. virginiana displaying
the columnar form and Juniperus virginiana var. silicicola more broadly
conical to rounded.
Eastern redcedar has thin, fibrous bark that is 0.3 to 0.64 inch (0.75-1.6
cm) thick. Leaves of eastern redcedar are borne in 2 forms. On seedlings
and new twigs, leaves are pointed and awl-shaped. On mature branches,
closely overlapping scale-like leaves fit tightly against the twig in
Eastern redcedar generally has a shallow, fibrous root system, though
roots of mature eastern redcedar trees may penetrate 25 feet (7.6 m) and
lateral roots may reach 20 feet (6 m). Eastern redcedar seedlings have
penetrating taproots and may later develop a lateral taproot system. The
deep, early taproot is usually replaced by an extensive, shallow root
system with age. Even 1st year seedlings begin developing a long fibrous
root system, often at the expense of top growth. The root system may be
deep where soil permits, but on shallow and rocky soils eastern redcedar
roots are very fibrous and tend to spread widely. The development of a
lateral taproot with age may also enable eastern redcedar to persist on out-
crops and shallow soils.
Eastern redcedar seeds are borne in small, fleshy, berrylike cones, with 1 to
4 seeds per cone. Eastern redcedar cones or fruits range from 0.12 to 0.33
inch (3-8 mm) long, with most 0.14 to 0.22 inch (3.5-5.5 mm) long. Within
this range, Juniperus virginiana var. silicicola generally has smaller cone
sizes than Juniperus virginiana var. virginiana. Seeds are 0.08-0.16 inch
(2-4 mm) long.
REGENERATION PROCESSES: Eastern redcedar reproduces solely
by seed; there is no natural asexual regeneration. Eastern redcedar
trees reach sexual maturity at approximately 10 years. Reproductive
activity may be influenced by tree size and site characteristics. In
general, the likelihood of reproductive activity 1) is lower on mountainsides
than in parkland, 2) increases with tree diameter and height, 3) increases
with diameter growth rate, and 4) decreases with shading by neighboring
Eastern redcedar is dioecious. Though rare, monoecious eastern redcedars
have been found. Male trees tend to be taller and have greater diameter
growth than female trees, which may contribute to their success as pollen
Eastern redcedar pollen is wind-dispersed.
Mature eastern redcedar trees produce some seeds nearly every year,
but good crops occur only every 2 or 3 years. Eastern redcedar produces
most seed between the ages of 25 and 75, though seed production can occur
in trees as young as 10 years and as old as 100+ years.
Eastern redcedar seed is dispersed by birds and small mammals. As a
result, seedling density is generally greater near trees or along fencelines
that provide perching sites. Seeds pass through bird digestive tracts
within 30 minutes of ingestion, suggesting many seeds will be deposited
near their source trees rather than transported long distances. Seeds
mature and are available to birds in winter and early spring when other
food is scarce and populations of wintering birds are high.
Seeds that pass through animal digestive tracts and those that remain on
the ground beneath the trees may germinate the 1st or 2nd spring after
dispersal. Most germination of eastern redcedar seed occurs in early spring
of the 2nd year after dispersal. Delayed germination is caused by embryo
dormancy and possibly by an impermeable seedcoat. Passage through an
animal's digestive tract speeds seed germination.
Most natural regeneration of eastern redcedar takes place on relatively
poor hardwood or pine (Pinus spp.) sites, along fence rows, or in pastures
that are not burned or mowed. Seedlings are commonly established in
rather open hardwood stands, adjacent to older seed-bearing eastern
redcedar trees. Eastern redcedar seedlings are shade intolerant, so
survival is better under open stand conditions. If competition from an
overstory is severe, eastern redcedar seedlings may not survive. Once
established, however, eastern redcedar survives for extended periods
under severe competition. Eastern redcedar seedling establishment may
be improved following the removal of litter. On very dry sites, most seed-
lings are found in crevices, between layers of limestone, and in other
protected places where the microclimate is most favorable.Seedling
development is relatively slow on these adverse sites, although eastern
redcedar seedlings withstand drought well. Established seedlings are
drought tolerant due to their taproot and relatively small leaf surface.
During the 1st year, seedlings do not produce much height growth but
develop a long fibrous root system.
Eastern redcedar growth is relatively slow, though stem volume, sapwood,
and heartwood growth rates of eastern redcedar increase when trees reach
15 to 20 years. Trees 20 to 30 years old are generally 18 to 26 feet
(5.5-8 m) tall and 2 to 3 inches (5-7.5 cm) in diameter. Mature trees
typically reach 40-70 feet (12-21 m) tall, with a short bole 12 to 28 inches
(30-71 cm) in diameter. Growth rates of eastern redcedar depend largely
on stand density, competition from other species, and site quality. These
factors probably reflect competition for available soil moisture on most sites.
On "good" sites, trees may reach 120 feet (36 m) tall and 4 feet (1.2 m) in
diameter. On dry sites in the prairie region, trees 110 years old are often
less than 20 feet (6 m) tall. On thin soils where growth is particularly slow,
eastern redcedar may have diameters <2 inches (5 cm) after 50 years.
Increased stand density generally results in taller eastern redcedar trees.
There is no natural asexual reproduction in eastern redcedar. It does not
resprout after complete cutting or burning.
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES: Eastern redcedar
commonly occurs in mixed stands with shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata),
Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana), northern red oak (Quercus rubra), white
oak (Quercus alba), black oak (Quercus velutina), blackjack oak (Quercus
marilandica), hickories (Carya spp.), and black walnut (Juglans nigra). In
the northeastern United States, eastern redcedar frequently occurs on rocky
ridgetops with shagbark hickory (Carya ovata), eastern hophornbeam
(Ostrya virginiana), downy serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea), little
bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), bristleleaf sedge (Carex eburnea),
and Parlin's pussytoes (Antennaria parlinii).
Where eastern redcedar dominates, species diversity is commonly low.
Pure stands of eastern redcedar occur throughout its range, primarily on
dry uplands or abandoned farmlands, though hardwood species may also
occur on these sites. In southern Appalachian montane cedar-hardwood
woodlands, eastern redcedar occurs with bluestems (Andropogon spp.),
little bluestem, sedges (Carex spp.), panicgrass (Dichanthelium spp.),
yellow honeysuckle (Lonicera flava), cliff stonecrop (Sedum
glaucophyllum), white ash (Fraxinus americana), eastern redbud
(Cercis canadensis), slippery elm (Ulmus rubra), honey-locust (Gleditsia
tricanthos), chinkapin oak (Quercus muehlenbergii), chestnut oak (Quercus
prinus), pignut hickory (Carya glabra), and mockernut hickory (Carya
tomentosa). Pure stands are also common in the northern Great Plains,
though the stands may eventually be invaded by other woody species.
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Eastern redcedar occurs from sea level to
5,000 feet (1,524 m) in elevation. Although the most desirable elevation
is not clearly delineated, eastern redcedar is found most often growing
between 100 and 3,500 feet (30-1,070 m). It is notably absent below the
100 foot elevation zone in the southern and eastern parts of its range.
Aspect influences the character of eastern redcedar stands. On north and
east slopes, there may be fewer eastern redcedar trees because of hardwood competition. However, the eastern redcedar that does occur on north
and east slopes may be taller than the trees found on south and west
slopes. Eastern redcedar is generally more prevalent on south and south-
west facing slopes. In the western part of its range, however, eastern
redcedar may more likely be found on north-facing slopes and along
streambanks where there is some protection from high temperatures
and drought. On exposed areas in the far northern portion of its range,
eastern redcedar's growth habit may be reduced to a low shrub.
Widespread distribution of eastern redcedar attests to its ability to grow
under a range of climatic conditions. Precipitation averages 15 inches
(380 mm) in the northwestern part of its range and 60 inches (1,520 mm)
in the southeastern parts of its range. Average annual maximum
temperature ranges from 90 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit (32-46 oC) and
average minimum temperature ranges from -45 to 20 degrees
Fahrenheit (-43 to -7 oC). The growing season varies from about 120 to
Throughout its range, eastern redcedar grows under diverse site
conditions: in deep and shallow soils, on ridgetops, and in valleys.
Eastern redcedar grows in such varied habitats as thin, rocky soils and
dry outcrops to finer textured, saturated soils of swamps, though it is not
tolerant of flooding. Eastern redcedar is common on shallow soils (6 to 8
inches (15-20 cm) thick) on limestone or sandstone bedrock. Where soil
averages less than 12 inches (30 cm) deep, eastern redcedar seldom grows
taller than 20 to 30 feet (6-9 m). Where soil depth is 12 to 24 inches (30-60
cm), it reaches 35 feet (10.7 m) in approximately 50 years. Optimal site
conditions for eastern redcedar are deep (>24 inches), moist, well-drained
alluvial soils, where it may reach heights of 55 to 60 feet (16.7-18.3 m) after
Eastern redcedar grows on alkaline or acidic soils where soil pH ranges
from 4.7 to 7.8. High soil acidity does not deter eastern redcedar
establishment, though it may slow growth. Combinations of low phosphorus,
high calcium and pH>7 in particular may favor eastern redcedar. Soils in
eastern redcedar stands tend to become neutral or slightly alkaline because
the high calcium content of the tree's foliage can change the pH of the
surface soil in a relatively short time.
Eastern redcedar (primarily Juniperus virginiana var. virginiana) is com-
monly found on rough upland topography, including moderate to steep
slopes and eroded limestone slopes and knobs. It frequently forms dense
stands on exposed bluffs and ridges. Southern redcedar occurs predominant-
ly on coastal dunes, swales, shell mounds, brackish flats, and floodplains.
Southern redcedar is saline tolerant, growing on brackish marsh sites in
southeastern U.S., barrier island swales subject to saltwater flooding, and
on coastal dunes subject to salt spray.
Eastern redcedar grows where water is near the surface or where soil
moisture fluctuates from near saturation in winter to extreme dryness
in summer. It has high drought tolerance, enhanced by the presence of
rapidly produced taproots as well as an extensive fibrous root system.
The relative drought tolerance of eastern redcedar compared with some
herbaceous species (e.g., big bluestem) may contribute to its successful
invasion of tallgrass prairie in the absence of fire.
Eastern redcedar is frost hardy, though newly established seedlings are
subject to frost heaving and foliage may occasionally be damaged by winter
Eastern redcedar is moderately shade intolerant/sun-adapted, though
seedlings may survive for several years under a sparse canopy.
SUCCESSIONAL STATUS: Eastern redcedar is both a pioneer and an
invader. It colonizes relatively open patches of eroded bare ground and
is most competitive on exposed dry sites; disturbed areas including
abandoned pastures and cultivated fields, eroded areas, and open woods
thinned by timber harvest. Eastern redcedar does not establish well in
more competitive, denser vegetation cover that occurs with less erosion or
later in succession.
Eastern redcedar a well-known invader in the prairie region. Invasion into
prairie grasslands is attributed primarily to absence of fire, and may be
exacerbated by certain grazing practices. A readily available seed source
resulting from eastern redcedar plantings and ability to capitalize across a
wide range of environmental conditions have also encouraged eastern
redcedar establishment in grasslands. Eastern redcedar is thus an early
to mid-seral component in cedar glades that result from the invasion of
grasslands. These glades eventually succeed to oak (Quercus spp.)
hardwood forests. Eastern redcedar glades may persist as subclimax
vegetation where soil development is low and rock outcrops are abundant.
The scarcity of soil precludes establishment of other species.
Eastern redcedar forms persistent, stable communities in limestone
outcrop areas. In particular, eastern redcedar stands may persist as
subclimax forest on eroded limestone slopes and knobs. Persistent
stands occurring on outcrops are subject to windthrow due to exposure
and shallow soil. The result is a periodic opening of the stand favoring
continued eastern redcedar establishment.
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Eastern redcedar has small,
inconspicuous flowers that appear from early to late spring. Pollination
occurs from February (south and east) to May (north and west), and
fertilization occurs about a month later. Cones develop on male and
female trees in the fall, and seeds mature in 1 season, from late July to
mid-November depending on location. As the ovulate cone develops,
greenish fruit-scales form the outer fleshy protective coat of the
berrylike cone. Cones change color from green to greenish-white to
whitish-blue and finally to bluish as the season progresses. The cones
do not open and will remain on the tree until early spring.
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Eastern redcedar's range extends from
Nova Scotia west to Ontario, south through the northern Great Plains to
eastern Texas, and east to northern Florida and the Atlantic coast.
Juniperus virginiana var. virginiana occurs throughout eastern redcedar's
range, with the exception of northern Florida. Juniperus virginiana var.
silicicola is restricted to coastal dunes and river sandbanks of Alabama,
Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, North and South Carolina, and northern
SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION:
Tree specimens can be found on trails marked in red.
Appalachian Trail/Old Trail
South Ridge/North Ridge
Rolling Meadows/ Lost Mountain
IMPORTANCE AND USES: Many birds and small mammals eat
the berrylike cones of eastern redcedar, especially in winter. Wildlife
species that eat eastern redcedar fruits include waxwings, bobwhite
quail, ruffed grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, ring-necked pheasant, wild
turkeys, rabbits, foxes, raccoons, skunks, opossums, and coyotes. Deer
may browse the abundant foliage of eastern redcedar when no other
food is available, and are more likely to browse reproductively-active,
mature than juvenile eastern redcedars.
As an evergreen, eastern redcedar provides good nesting and roosting
cover for many birds. These include nest sites for Cooper's hawks and
roosting sites for eastern screech-owls, short-eared owls, and saw-whet
owls. Dense thickets of eastern redcedar provide good escape and hiding
cover for deer and small mammals.
Eastern redcedar establishes well on abandoned surface mines, agricultural
fields, and logging sites and is used to recover highly eroded, nutrient-poor
soils. Use of eastern redcedar for rehabilitating strip-mines is most effective
in calcareous spoils due to its slow growth on acid banks. Many cultivars of
eastern redcedar are available, with variations primarily based on overall
tree shape and the color of female cones. Commercial nurseries use
propagation by rooted cuttings and grafting for vegetative reproduction
of eastern redcedar.
The aromatic oils found in eastern redcedar heartwood repel clothing moths
and are widely used in perfumes. Aromatic oils are toxic to some ant species
(Argentine ant and odorous house ant), and eastern redcedar mulch is
effective in discouraging ant colonization. Eastern redcedar oils are also
effective in repelling Formosan subterranean termites. Heartwood
extractives may inhibit growth of fungi and bacteria. Eastern redcedar
heartwood has approximately 10 times the oil extractives of sapwood.
Due to a higher proportion of heartwood to sapwood in closed-canopy
stands of eastern redcedar, trees grown under closed stand conditions
may contain 4 to 5 times as much oil in the bolewood as open-grown
trees of the same diameter.
Eastern redcedar heartwood is resistant to attack by termites and has
greater commercial value than sapwood. The principal product of eastern
redcedar is fenceposts, though it is also used for lumber, poles, boats,
paneling, closets, chests, and pencils. The aromatic heartwood is commonly
used for chests or closet lining. On most sites, eastern redcedar grows
slowly, and long rotations are required to produce conventional sawlogs.