Juniperus virginiana (Eastern Red Cedar)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Cupressaceae (Cypress)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Habitat:part shade, sun; sandy or rocky soil; prairies, old fields, fencerows, slopes, roadsides, open woods, swamps
Bloom season:April - May
Plant height:10 to 80 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: UPL MW: FACU NCNE: FACU
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: indistinct

[photo of male strobili] Male and female flowers are cone like structures called strobili, borne on separate trees. Male cones are oval to egg shaped, 1/8 to 1/6 inch long with yellowish brown scales holding the yellow pollen, at the tips of 2nd year branches.

[photo of female strobili] Female flower cones appear as several ranks of yellowish-tan to blue-green scales at branch tips, little more than 1/16 inch long.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: opposite Leaf attachment: whorl Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves on mature growth] Leaves are of two kinds. Leaves on older, slower growing twigs are lance-oval, scale-like tapering to a pointed tip, crowded together in opposite pairs, overlapping and tightly appressed to the branch, 1/10 inch long or less (1-3 mm).

[photo of leaves on juvenile growth] Leaves on young, fast growing branches are awl-like, up to 1/3 inch long, spaced some distance apart, opposite or in whorls of three, with the sharp tip spreading making them very prickly. Early season the foliage turns green but by late summer and through winter, turns a dark bronzy red, often with a waxy bloom. Leaves can persist 4 to 6 years. 

[photo of mature trunk] Trunks are up to 20 inches in diameter. Older bark is thin, grayish brown in long, thin and flattened vertical ridges that peel off in long stringy strips over time. Branchlets on fast juvenile growth are long, thin and straight, on older growth they are short and much divergent, forming branched coral-like clusters at branch tips. 

Fruit: Fruit type: berry/drupe

[photo of fruit] Fruit is an irregularly round berry-like cone, up to ¼ inch diameter with a waxy bluish coating similar to blueberries. Immature cones are fleshy becoming dry and pithy.

[photo of seed] A cone contains 1 to 3 seeds; seeds are irregularly egg-shaped and remain within the closed cone until dispersed by animals.


Red Cedar is a small to mid-sized, conical shaped evergreen tree and is not a true cedar at all, but a juniper. While extremely drought tolerant, it is intolerant of both shade and fire and historically it was mostly restricted to sparsely vegetated, open, fire protected margins of slopes, bluffs and rock outcrops. It is also long-lived, some specimens four centuries or older in age. With the absence of fire in the present time, it has become common across the landscape in open, dry habitats from abandoned fields and pastures to open rolling and steep goat prairies. It can readily invade even high quality native prairie, eventually creating a closed canopy that chokes out ground layer species. Managed burns easily remove young plants but low fuel levels under larger trees requires difficult and labor intensive mechanical removal and disposal in large reclamation projects. Known for its decay resistant and aromatic wood, there is a common notion that it can protect clothing from insect damage. While it has been shown that fresh cut wood may provide some repellancy, it won't kill insects present and once dried out provides no protection whatsoever. Eastern Red Cedar is an alternate host for Cedar-apple rust, a fungus that forms bright orange to brown balls on branches and can cause some crop damage to apple trees. There are 2 recognized varieties of Juniperus virginiana: var. silicicola is present in the southeastern US, has smaller fruit and older leaves with blunt to pointed tips; var. virginiana is present throughout the eastern half of the US, including Minnesota, into Canada, and is described above.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka, Dakota, Kandiyohi, Ramsey and Scott counties.


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