Eastern Red-Cedar

Basic Information
Tree ID: 
Genus and species: 
Despite its name, the Eastern Red Cedar is not a cedar at all. It is actually a juniper, as is indicated by its scientific name juniperus virginiana. This tree is the most common eastern conifer and can be widely found in 37 states across the country. First observed in 1564 in Roanoke Island Virginia, this tree can be identified by its soft bark, its fragrant and scaled foliage, and its small berry-like cones that have a distinct blueish-purple color. Due to its high prevalence in the United States, the eastern red cedar has been adapted for a variety of uses. For example, its berries can be used for tea and a wide range of medicinal purposes, while its bark can be used for perfumes, fenceposts, and pencils.
Isabella Cruz, Alana Eiland
Collected Data
Tree shape: 
Date of tree entry: 
3.50 m
Diameter at breast height: 
0.10 m

There are too many multiple trunks to accurately measure the DBH, so this is just an estimate
The bark is soft, has a red/brown color, and peels off easily into long fibrous strips. When the bark peels off, it reveals an ashy gray color underneath.
Twigs & branches
The eastern red cedar has twigs that are green for the first few years of its life, but turn brown as the tree matures. Its branches are dense and can be found on the entirety of the tree, even close to the ground.
The Eastern Red-Cedar is an evergreen, meaning that its foliage remains green and functional throughout various seasons and weather conditions. The leaves of an adult eastern red-cedar are approximately 1.5 inches or shorter and arrange themselves in a tightly overlapping pattern. The pattern appears scale-like and is made up of small triangular shapes.
Reproductive Structures
The eastern red cedar is dioecious; this particular tree has the female reproductive structures, which are small, blue-colored, waxy, berry-like cones found at the tips of branchlets. The female cones ripen in September or October, but they enlarge in the late winter; the photograph of the enlarged cones provided was taken in late February. The male reproductive structures of eastern red cedars are yellow-brown pollen cones grouped at the end of branches. The cones contain 10 to 12 sporophylls each that contain pollen sacs. The male cones begin to develop during late summer and mature during late winter. When the male pollen cones split open and release the pollen which is then carried by the wind, the ovules of the female seed cones can receive it, and the seed cone becomes fertilized when it closes.
Although the Eastern Red-Cedar appears to have small berries in its foliage that look like fruit, they are actually cones. The cone is made up of soft and fleshy scales and have a blue/purple color with a white wax covering. Each cone contains 1-3 seeds and are an important food source to many birds.
  • Winter
  • Spring
Natural range of distribution: 
The eastern red cedar, known for its adaptability, is native to the eastern United States and can survive in a wide variety of environments ranging from dry and rocky soil to marshy swamps. It can even survive in soils that appear barren that very few other plants would be able to tolerate; as a result, it is very drought resistant. To grow successfully, the eastern red cedar needs to be in an environment where it has a lot of exposure to the sun.
Origin, history, and uses: 

The eastern red cedar can be dated back to aboriginal North America; fossil records show that during this time, eastern red cedars could be found on much of the continent. Notably, explorers Arthur Barlowe and Philip Amadus proclaimed that the eastern red cedars were the “tallest and reddest cedars in the world” upon their arrival at Roanoke Island in 1564. Their wood was used for furniture and fences because it was easily manipulated but not easily weathered. It was also the dominant tree used to make pencils for over a century due to its soft and aromatic wood, resulting in it also being called the “pencil cedar,” until supply of eastern red cedar bark became limited and cheaper alternatives became available. Additionally, the wood of the eastern red cedar has historically been burned by Native Americans during purifications and ritual ceremonies; the wood was also used to make canoes and bows. They also boiled its leaves and twigs to aid with respiratory conditions, and made the berries into a tea that one would drink to stop vomiting.

The eastern red cedar is an evergreen conifer that retains its foliage throughout the year. Eastern red cedars are dioecious (though some are occasionally monoecious) and they reach sexual maturity after about 10 years. Female trees have berry-like seed cones, and male trees have groups of pollen cones. Pollination occurs when the male pollen cones split open and the pollen is carried by the wind to the ovules of the female seed cones between February (especially in the South and the East) and May (most often in the North and the West). Fertilization occurs about a month later when the female seed cone closes. The male pollen cones develop on the tree during the late summer and fall, and the seeds become mature after one season, usually in the late winter; the pollen cones become a yellow-brown color upon reaching maturity. The female seed cones are initially green in color when they develop in the late summer and early fall, but they enlarge and become blue in color during the late winter. The foliage of the eastern red cedar is a dull green during the spring and fall seasons, but becomes a darker greenish-brown during the winter. The twigs of the eastern red cedar are green for the first several years of the tree’s life, but turn brown after.
Media and Arts
Medicinal Value of Red Cedar Trees- Dr. Chung-Ho Lin.

Video: A Researcher at the University of Missouri found that the Eastern red cedar has anti-melanoma, anti-microbial, and anti-fungal chemicals that can be useful for medicine. 

Medicinal uses of Eastern Red Cedar: 

The Blackfeet Tribe:  

  • Made tea from the berries of the red cedar to stop vomiting. 

  • As a remedy for arthritis and rheumatism, they boil the leaves in water, add half of a teaspoon of turpentine, and then rub the mixture on the affected areas of the body.

  • For backache, they made a tea from a mixture of red cedar roots and Populus leaves

The Cheyenne Tribe:

  • Steeped the leaves of the red cedar to relieve persistent coughing or ticking in the throat. This remedy was also used to help calm hyper active individuals and increase the ease of childbirth for women. 

  • Tea made from the branches and fleshy cones were used to alleviate colds, fevers, tonsillitis, and pneumonia. 

The Gros Ventres Tribe: 

  • Ate red-cedar berries or pulverized them to make tea.  

  • To control bleeding, they would mix the leaves and root and apply it to the would. 

The Crow tribe: 

  • Drank red cedar tea to stop diarrhea and stop lung hemorrhage

  • Women drank red cedar to cleanse and heal after child birth.