Juniperus virginiana (Eastern Red Cedar) Cupressaceae

  • Juniperus virginiana, or more commonly known as the Red Cedar, is known for being strong for its size, and for its beauty. The Red Cedar is native in many states in northern and eastern America. It can be found is along woodland and wetland areas right on Lake Michigan.

    Physical characteristics

    Leaf: The leaf of Juniperus virginiana is a long skiny leaf that is needle-like. It is qualified as having Evergreen leaves. What this means is there are usually two types, a green leaf that about 1/14 of an inch and a much larger blue thistle that is about 3x the size of the green leaf in length. The leaf, at the tip, is rounded a somewhat spongy to the touch. Leaves come out in a whorl and are sub-opposite.

    Flower | Seeds: The majority of these plants are dioecious, which means that each plant is either a male or female. Male flowers are small yellow spers of pollen. The female flowers are typically small and light blue. The berry and seeds are edible and turn a solid blue and rarely exceed 8cm long. The Red Cedar flowers in early spring and matures into a berry by late fall. 

    Trunk | Bark: The Bark is a deep red-brown. This tree has a tendency to “shed” its outerbark, and the color underneath is more of a dull grey. The bark is very sturdy and has been crafted into small shelters and also small furniture. 

    Life span: Depending if it is in its natural habitat, the Red Cedar can live between 100 years to about 300 years. 

    Ecological characteristics

    The Red Cedar is found by bodies of water and is very prevalent around the Great Lakes. These trees will be found on the shore of the the body of water. They can live in many different types of enriched soil which include some clay soils and some sandy soils, however, it thrives in wetlands.

    Here is a key that shows where Juniperus virginiana can be found. The green area is where the Red Cedar is native and the red area is where it is not native.

    Importance to the ecosystem

    The Red Cedar has many important uses within its ecosystem. One of the most important is that it provides a safe home for many different birds. It also provides shelter for land dwelling aminals when it rains becasue of the coverage the foliage creates. This tree also provides food for birds and deer with the berries it produces, though humans like the taste of the berries as well. Due to the root system, this is one of the best plants to protect soil from erosion. The significance of this is it allows smaller and younger plants to grow in enriched, protected soil.

    Relationship with other species

    Non-human: This tree provides food and shelter to numerous birds and animals and in return seed dispertion and fertilization occurs. Also enriched soil is preserved for smaller plants to grow. 

    Humans: Many fragrances are created from the bark, and it’s an attractive wood that small funiture is made out of. Also, the tree provides berries to eat, though many people don’t know they are edible. Many people use these trees as holiday trees and decoration for their yards, though yard decoration is not as popular as it once was.

    Pests: Many insects love to eat different parts of the Red Cedar which include roots, bark, and the leaves. Many mites, worms, and beetles will eat these different parts of the tree, but rarely damage the tree enough for it to be lethal. However these insects have killed parts of the Red Cedar such as new growth. Fire is beneficial to the tree and  fungus is a pest that can ruin roots and the bark of the tree. 

    Other interesting facts

    • The berry from the Red Cedar provides gin with its unique flavor and has been used for many years.
    • Red Cedar is a native plant to the Chicago region.
    • The Red Cedar is one of the first to re-populate itself after its habitat has been burned.
    • The bark of the Red Cedar is used to make many different fragrances, such as essential oils.


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