I spent my elementary years in Newport News living just off a lane named for the cedar tree. I thought it was an awesome cedar-lined road with trees that seemed tall and majestic to my little self. My bike was parked beneath many of the cedars that had a foothold or low enough limb that I could reach by standing on the seat of my bike. High up in the trees, limbs seemed comfortable, a perfect saddle for a youngster to idle away a summer afternoon watching cars, bikers and walkers pass beneath me, unaware of the small monkey clinging to the rough branches high in the tree enjoying the sights and the the pungent aroma of the needles and cones.
So it’s natural that I would have a fondness for these common native trees in the Virginia landscape. You will see them on the horizon, growing in fields, against fences, on the waterfront, and in the middle of your flower bed. It is a rugged tree and a true survivor. The seeds of the female are spread far and wide by birds. Often it’s the first plant to sprout out of cleared land and one that I must continually weed from my borders. Not really a cedar at all, the Eastern redcedar or red cedar (juniperus virginiana) is a juniper, growing from Maine southward in the east and areas in the midwest. It’s a tree that is regularly cleared from sites as an undesirable.
But the tree is very desirable to birds. Walking past one of our tall redcedars during our last big snow two weeks ago, I startled at least 20 little brown birds that had been hunkered down in the shelter of the tight foliage. Not only does the tree provide great protection in wintry weather, the redcedar provides food for birds, squirrels, and other animals. The female produces delightful miniature frosted blue cone clusters on the evergreen branches that are used often in flower arrangements in our garden club. Cedar closets, cedar drawers, and cedar blocks to repel moths in closets and drawers come from the aromatic red wood of the red cedar. Finally, here’s a little fact about junipers: the word gin is an English shortening of the Dutch word Genever, meaning juniper, the cone of a which is a main flavoring in the drink.
Add in a number of medicinal uses of the redcedar throughout history and this juniper tree has earned its place in the environment. So when mister gardener complains that one majestic redcedar is shading his vegetables too much, I say to him, “Move the garden.” This old tree will be here for hundreds of years!
It’s been almost a year that I followed a live online chat at the Daily Press with Kathy Van Mullekom, Garden Editor, and Phillip Merritt, landscape architect and native plant expert. Kathy asked her guests to name 5 native plants they would choose to plant in their landscape and she answered first. I was delighted that she picked the Eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana)as one of her choices as a windbreak and to provide privacy from neighboring yards. It’s a common native tree dear to my heart. This former tree climber thanks you, Kathy!
Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester