Eastern Red Cedar

Basic Information
Tree ID: 
Genus and species: 
Don't let the naming fool you: despite it being called the Eastern red cedar, this tree is actually a juniper. In fact, it is the most widespread juniper across the eastern United States! It then comes at no surprise that we see this massive 45 foot tree towering over the Undergraduate Admissions Office. An additional fun fact: the eastern red cedar was the choice of wood in manufacturing pencils up until 1920, due to the material being soft and aromatic. This process stopped due to them cutting down all the trees! Thankfully, the tree is no longer endangered; the eastern red cedar's population is rising across the U.S.
Selma Abouneameh, Nadean Alnajjar, Dyuthi Mathews Tharakan
Collected Data
Tree shape: 
Conical/Pyramid Shape
Date of tree entry: 
13.90 m
Diameter at breast height: 
0.60 m

The bark is reddish brown, and fibrous. It shreds easily, peeling off in thin, narrow, linear strips – hence the tree's labeling as a type of softwood. As the tree grows older, the bark may turn grayer and thicker.
Twigs & branches
Young twigs on the eastern red cedar are greenish brown, yet they are hard to see, as they are shrouded by the abundant foliage! They are angularly aligned.
The adult leaves are dark green, small, and scale-like, forming triangle shapes. Their blades are less than 2 inches long, and the leaves are closely overlapped in a 2- or 4-ranked pattern along the tree branch. The eastern red cedar is also a coniferous evergreen: its leaves do not change color in the fall, nor does the tree lose its leaves in the winter. Had this been a younger eastern red cedar, the leaves would appear a bit different. Young leaves would be awl-shaped, oppositely patterned and protruding across the branch.
Reproductive Structures
This Juniper is a dioecious plant. This means that its male and female reproductive structures are separate plants! The male reproductive organs are brown cones that grow on the tips of branches of the tree. They generate pollen, which gets released into the air during germination. This pollen then makes its way to the female cone, or strobilus. The female cones are fleshy and berry-like. They take anywhere from 1-2 years to develop and contain between 1-3 seeds. These seeds, when pollinated, develop into Juniper berries! Image Source: https://www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org/pages/plants/easternredcedar.html
Don't be fooled by the name - Juniper berries aren't actual berries, but rather small cones with fleshy scales that make it look like a berry! These juniper berries produced by the Eastern Red Cedar are distinct in that they have a deep blue-purple color and a white wax coating. The berries take about 3 years to mature, and are often used for both cooking and medicinal purposes. Image Source: https://www.ajc.com/life/wild-georgia-why-eastern-red-cedar-is-known-as-the-graveyard-tree/PS2MKQGXIJHPLIRUV6UUFMXTWM/
  • Spring (March 25, 2021)
The Eastern Red Cedar is a tree that can tolerate many conditions. It is distributed throughout the Eastern United States. The tree is found in a wide range of soils and growing conditions, and can survive in both swamps and dry, rocky soil (which they prefer). The Eastern Red Cedar is found in red and white oak forests, hickory forests, and mixed pine forests. The trees are so resilient that they can even grow in prairies and form cedar glades!
Origin, history, and uses: 

“The tallest and reddest cedars in the world,” is the apt description bestowed upon the Eastern Red Cedar by Captain Philip Amadus and Arthur Barlowe on the first expeditions to Roanoke Island, Virginia in 1564, the first time the tree was observed by the Western world. These trees would be vital to the Roanoke colony, used for furniture, log cabins, fences and even coffins. They even used it to create an oil to act as an insect repellant. Even now, it is used to protect woolen clothing by lining chests and wardrobes. Other uses include pencils and Christmas trees though both uses have decreased since the mid-1900s.

The Eastern red cedar was used by many indigenous communities for ethnobotanical medicine. One of the most common is the burning of its wood as incense for purifications and rituals. 

The Blackfeet Nation historically have made teas from its berries to stop vomiting. They would also boil it and add turpentine to rub onto body parts affected by arthiritis and rheumatism.

The Cheyenne would use red cedar leaves to create a tea to relieve coughing and also for calming purposes. It would also be drank during childbirth by women to speed up delivery. 

The Gros Ventre would pulverize its berries to boil them in tea or eat them whole. They would also create a mixture of its leaves and root to apply to sites of bleeding to control it. 

The Crow Tribe would also use its tea to stop diarrhea and lung/nasal hemorrhage. 

The US would eventually adopt the leaf twigs as a diuretic into the U.S. Pharmacopoeia from 1820-1894. Since 1916, the distilled oil of red cedars have been added to the U.S. Pharmacopoeia.

Besides medical uses, wood would be used for bows and lance shafts by indigenous communities. It would also be used for musical instruments like flutes. Bark would be used by the Menomini for woven mats which would help surve as roofing or floor mats.

Eastern redcedars reach sexual maturity at roughly 10 years. As a dioecious species, male trees are distinguished from ovulate trees based on staminate strobili on male trees that turn yellowish brown upon reaching maturity in the winter. Pollen grains are formed in these strobili by late September. On ovulate trees, conelets develop in late summer/early fall but they do not grow during the winter until late February. During this spring, pollen grains will encroach the micropyle of ovules in conelets. Pollination will follow once the conelet closes. The pollen tube itself becomes active by mid-summer in May/June and fertilization will occur in June. The embryo will then be fully grown by July-November. While seeds are produced every year, most successful seeds are only produced every 2-3 years. During the winter the cones won't open, such that dispersal will be dependent on birds and other animals eating the seeds. These seeds once passed will germinate in early spring usually two years after it was dispersed.

Chadwick, P. (2017, December). The Pros and Cons of the Eastern Red Cedar. Piedmont Master Gardens. https://piedmontmastergardeners.org/article/the-pros-and-cons-of-the-eas…

Gilman, E. F., & Watson, D. G. (1993, November). Juniperus Virginiana Eastern Red Cedar. http://hort.ufl.edu/trees/JUNVIRA.pdf. 

Hilty, J. (2020). Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana). https://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/trees/plants/red_cedar.htm. 

Lawson, E. Eastern Red Cedar. USDA Forest Service. https://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/pubs/misc/ag_654/volume_1/juniperus/virginia…

Nelson, R. (2014, March 12). Eastern Red Cedar. Untamed Science. https://untamedscience.com/biodiversity/eastern-red-cedar/. 

Stevens, M., Kaiser, J., and Dozier, I. (2000, December) Eastern Red Cedar. USDA NRCS. https://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/cs_juvi.pdf

University of Florida. (2020, November 12). Eastern redcedar. 4-H Forest Resources. http://sfrc.ufl.edu/extension/4h/trees/Eastern_redcedar/index.html. 

Media and Arts

How to Make Eastern Red Cedar Body Lotion

What you need:

1 cup Unrefined Shea Butter

1 cup Argan Oil or Coconut Oil 

2 tablespoons Vitamin E (if using Coconut Oil. Leave out Vitamin E if using Argan Oil, which naturally has it)

2 tablespoons Vegetable Glycerin/Vegetable Oil

3mL Eastern Red Cedar Essential Oil (can order this online, or extract it using the bark of the tree!)

Red Eyeshadow (optional. Solely for color)

Mason Jar or PET Plastic Container 


Instructions (makes 20oz of lotion)

1. Blend the shea butter, argan/coconut oil, vitamin E(if using), and vegetable glycerin/oil in a blender until smooth.

2. Add the essential oil until reaching preferential scent potency. Blend lightly. 

To make the essential oil from scratch, take some bark from the tree and shave it into small peels using a potato peeler. 

Rinse and strain the shavings under water to remove of dirt. Dry the bark (this could take a few days).

Place the dried bark in a pot of water. The water should cover an inch above the layer of the bark. Let simmer on low heat for 4-6 hours. The fat/oil layer will develop on top of the water.

Let the liquid cool to room temperature before placing the pot in the fridge overnight. The top layer of oil should congeal.

Skim the oil/fat layer with a ladle, and transfer to a separate pot on low heat. Try not to pick up any bark water remnants underneath. Once the fat is liquified completely, pour through a coffee filter/cheesecloth and funnel into a bottle to remove any impurities. Be sure to cap the bottle, so as not to oxidize the essential oil.

Store the oil at room temperature, capped, in a dark place!

3. Add red eyeshadow until reaching a desired color (optional). Blend, then pour into your PET-plastic or mason jar container!


Juniper Berry “Tree Bark” Cookie Recipe

By: Selma Abouneameh 

Adapted from: https://www.theflavorbender.com/juniper-berry-spiced-chocolate-hazelnut-cookies


2 tsp whole juniper berries

2 sticks unsalted butter

1 cup brown sugar

½ tsp kosher salt

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 ½  cup flower

1 cup cocoa powder

½ cup chopped hazelnuts 

¼ cup Ghiradelli milk chocolate chips 

1 cup raw cane sugar 


1. Toast juniper berries in a dry pan on medium heat for 5 minutes or until the berries start to give off a pine-scented aroma. 

2. Remove from heat and allow the berries to cool. Once cooled, grind the berries into a fine powder using a mortar-and-pestle

3. Cream together butter, brown sugar, kosher salt, vanilla extract, and juniper berry powder. You can do this by hand or by using a stand mixer. 

4. Sift flour and cocoa powder into the bowl. Sift small amounts of each at a time. You don’t want the batter to be too dry. Sift in enough dry ingredients until the dough no longer sticks to your hands/the attachment of the stand mixer.

5. Add chopped hazelnuts and milk chocolate chips and mix until well combined 

6. Divide the dough in half and roll each section of the dough into a 1 ½ - 2 in diameter cookie log. Cover with plastic wrap and put in the fridge to cool for 2 hours


1. Preheat oven to 325 degreed farenheit

2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper 

3. Put the raw cane sugar on a flat plate

4. Unroll the dough logs and roll in the cane sugar. This is what creates the “bark-like” crust on the outside of the cookie. 

5. Use a sharp knife to cut the cookie dough into 1cm thick slices. This will be difficult and the cookies may not maintain their shape. After you cut each cookie, be sure to mold it back into a circular shape. You can roll the edges of the cookie in the raw cane sugar again if needed. 

6. Place individual cookies on the baking sheet and bake for 13-15 minutes. 

7. Take cookies out of the oven, let them cool, and enjoy!