Cedar belongs to the genus Cedrus of the family Pinaceae (pine family). Its variations also come under the plant families of Cupressaceae and Meliaceae. In the natural habitat, they are adapted to a very high altitude of more than 1000 meters above the sea level. However, they are highly adaptive and grow best in areas, where the winter temperature is above -25°C. Hence, they are often planted as ornamental trees in certain regions of the world. Many hobbyists prefer growing cedar trees for their strong-scented and durable wood. Commercially, they are an important source for production of quality and insect resistant timber.
Remember that the native North American cedars are not true cedars. Various types of cedar trees have been identified, out of which the eastern red or Juniperus virginiana, northern white Thuja occidentalis, and western red Thuja Plicata cedar tree (shown in the image) are most common as ornamentals. Hence, learning the basic keys for identification is important for selecting the right species for your landscape design.
Identification of Cedar Trees
The identification is done by using the basic taxonomic criteria for classification of trees. Even though the plant features may vary slightly from one species to another, you can identify a cedar tree by examining the various parts like leaves, bark, branching pattern, reproductive structures, and tree height.
The leaves of this tree are evergreen and retain throughout the year. The foliage is typically needle-shaped and each of them tend to overlap the other. Unlike the long, needle-shaped leaves of pine trees, a cedar tree foliage is soft, very short and appears like that of ferns. Crush the cedar leaves in your hand, and you can smell that distinctive fragrance.
Bark and Branches
The bark is thin, brownish to reddish in color, fibrous, and has a vertically furrowed texture. You can easily peel off the bark in thin strips. The diameter of the main stem in a matured tree is about 5 meter, while the width of the twigs varies according to maturity. The branches are short and covered with scale like leaves that are brown (old foliage) or green (new foliage) in color.
Cedar trees are dioecious, meaning that male and female flowers are borne in different trees. Accordingly, the male and female flowers are different, wherein the former is usually brown colored, whereas a female flower is small and bluish green in color. If you prefer cone formations, you need to plant both the male and female cedar trees adjacent to each other.
Like other coniferous trees, the reproductive structure of a cedar tree is borne in the form of a cone. The cone size, shape, and color is the main criterion for identification of different cedar species. For example, cones of the Atlantic white cedar are waxy blue in color that turn reddish brown when ripe. On the other hand, the cones of the eastern red cedar are green that become blue when mature.
The canopy shape of a cedar tree is pyramidal, in which the tree appears wider at the base and narrower at the tip. Hence, pruning the trees to maintain a canopy shape is not always necessary for these trees. Of course, you should trim off the dead and diseased twigs during fall, when the tree is not growing actively.
On an average, the height is about 40-50 feet at maturity. The height of the eastern red cedar species is about 40-60 feet, while that of the Atlantic white cedar trees ranges from 45-85 feet. However, some species in the natural mountainous habitat can grow up to a height of approximately 100 feet.
Whenever you get an opportunity to visit an horticultural center, try comparing the similarities and dissimilarities of the cedar tree species to learn more about these wonderful landscaping trees.