Thuja occidentalis (White Cedar)

Plant Info
Also known as: Arborvitae, Swamp Cedar, Northern White Cedar, Eastern White Cedar
Genus:Thuja
Family:Cupressaceae (Cypress)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Origin:native
Habitat:part shade, sun; moist to wet; peat swamps, moist upland forest, rocky lakeshores, cliffs
Bloom season:April - May
Plant height:40 to 80 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACW MW: FACW NCNE: FACW
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, both borne on separate twigs or branchlets of the same branch. Male cones are round, 1/16 inch long with brownish scales on a short, stout stem at the branchlet tip.

[photo of female strobili] Female flower cones appear as several ranks of dark tipped tan scales at branchlet tips, also little more than 1/16 inch long.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are opposite, scale-like with abruptly pointed tips, 1/10 (or less) to ¼ inch long, in bead-like ranks along the branch in two pairs, each pair perpendicular to the other, the outer pair lateral and wrapping around the more flattened, inner pair. Leaves are bright green through the first winter then turn brown and woody and persist for several years.

[photo of bark] Trunks are up to 50 inches in diameter, with thin, grayish brown bark in long, thin and flattened vertical ridges that can loosen in flat strips over time. Branchlets form a flat fan-like spray, covered with the green and brown scale-like leaves, bark on small twigs smooth and reddish brown. Branches may take root where they touch the ground.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of dried cone after seed released] Fruit is an egg-shaped cone, 1/3 to ½ inch long, green to pinkish brown when immature, turning dark brown at maturity with cone scales opening to release seeds in the fall.

[photo of seed] Each cone contains about 8 seeds; seeds are generally elliptic, flattened, winged, and about ¼ inch long including the wings.

Notes:

White Cedar is a mid-sized, conical-shaped evergreen tree common throughout much of north central and northeastern Minnesota. A familiar sight along the rocky cliffs of the northshore and lake shorelines in the BWCA, it is also abundant in sphagnum peat swamps where it creates magical dark and cool cover for such things as rare orchids. Young saplings can persist many years in deep shade of surrounding trees as well as persisting as old stunted trees on open, harsh rocky cliffs, like the famed, 500-year-old Little Spirit Cedar Tree at Grand Portage. It is a highly favored deer browse and can be observed along highways in long rows, tightly trimmed from below to the height of the deer's highest reach. White cedar is also the source of the myriad cultivars of arborvitae found in the nursery trade. These and even the native form can be found in landscapes and windbreaks throughout Minnesota.

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More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Carlton, Lake and St. Louis counties. Photos courtesy John Thayer taken in Itasca County. 'Little Spirit Cedar Tree' Xerxes2004 is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

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