Eastern Red Cedar is an evergreen tree of many uses


One of our more versatile trees is eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana). It’s adaptable, resistant to decay and parts of it are edible and have medicinal uses. Red cedars are evergreens, so they provide protection from winter winds. They’re also important lumber sources and they grow fast.
Eastern red cedar actually isn’t a cedar at all. It’s a juniper. Also, some people consume the blue structures they call fruits or berries. The problem is they aren’t fruits at all. They are cones, since junipers belong to a division of plants related to pines called Gymnosperms. Unlike pines, their foliage consists of overlapping scales not needles.
These medium-sized fragrant evergreens grow well on dry sandy or rocky infertile soils with an extremely wide pH range. They also are a pioneer species, meaning they will take over open areas, but will be displaced when taller species shade their canopies. Some call them pencil cedars because of their upright growth habit.
Most trees that require full sun have dense canopies and red cedars are no exception. For this reason and their relatively uniform shape they are a common Christmas tree species. I have never used them for that. I prefer needled trees.
I do think they make gorgeous lumber. The grain is a rich red color and the fragrant smell is unmistakable. Historically the wood has been used to line closets and cabinets to discourage moths. It is also a common fencing material because the wood is so durable in contact with soil. Young trees also make long lasting fence posts.
If you’ve ever been around any mature specimens you might have noticed the pea sized blue cones. They are edible in small quantities and make an acceptable tea or can be used as a flavoring in soups. Make sure they are a dark blue and slightly soft before consuming them and only consume a few at a sitting.
Cones are also used for flavoring gin and a French liqueur called chartreuse. Some use them to flavor sauerkraut. They are mildly antiseptic and have been used to treat worms. Herbalists have prescribed chewing them to soothe mouth ulcers and making tea from them to combat colds and rheumatism.
Foliage is sometimes used medicinally, but in very small quantities. Fresh young twigs are a diuretic. Fragrant essential oils are extracted and added to soaps, perfumes and for aromatherapy. Many people use wood shavings as pet bedding.
Eastern red cedar is no friend to apple growers. Cedar apple rust is a serious apple disease. When the fungus grows on red cedar it looks like a cluster of bright orange worms. As it matures and dries it resembles big wads of chewing gum. Other than that it causes few problems.
On apples, the disease causes leaves to speckle and fall off. Much of the fruit does too. Fruits that persist are blemished and usually unmarketable. Both species must be present for the fungus to complete its life cycle, so a common control is to eliminate nearby red cedar trees.

red cedar branch tips showing cones

red cedar branch tips showing cones

close-up of blue bery-like cones in artificial light

close-up of blue berry-like cones in artificial light

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com). I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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6 Responses to Eastern Red Cedar is an evergreen tree of many uses

  1. adifranza says:

    Hi TedManzer,

    My name is Ashley DiFranza and I work for Twin Pines Landscaping, out of Massachusetts! We just love your blog and think that you provide great images and insight into gardening! We would love to get connected and share more ideas! Feel free to check out our blog here http://twinpineslandscaping.wordpress.com/ or “Like” us on Facebook here http://on.fb.me/1pkI2Bq to get an idea about who we are and what we do! Thanks so much and we look forward to getting connected!

    Ashley DiFranza & The Twin Pines Landscaping Team

  2. Andrea says:

    Hello, Mr. Manzer.
    I just noticed several “blooming” orange balls on the tree in my yard and I am hoping you can tell me a way apple trees can be treated against this rust, as my neighbor’s apple tree is being affected. I’m in your local area, in Currituck County.
    I want to do the right thing but understand I LOVE, love, love my giant cedar trees. (As do the local birds and rabbits and ‘possums; it seems to have become its own ecosystem).

    • tedmanzer says:

      I would try to remove all the galls from the cedar. Spraying the Apple trees with fungicide should help. Spraying the cedar (actually red cedar is a juniper) should help too.

      • Andrea says:

        Thank you so much for your time.
        I was afraid you’d make those suggestions; the tree is probably close to 40 feet tall, so I won’t be able to get many of them. I found one dried up gall two summers ago, now there are several galls.
        Another question: There are many blobs of orange jelly now. Is this where galls will form next?

      • tedmanzer says:

        Yes, they start out that way and eventually look like dried up chewing gum. Rusts are interesting in that they are macrocyclic. They live out their life-cycle on two hosts just like tapeworms and heartworms do on dogs. Try to remove as many of the the orange globs as you can. The apples will need to be sprayed every week to ten days during the season. Hopefully you’ll get things under control. You certainly don’t have the only red cedar in the area. They’re pretty common.

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