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Atlantic White Cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides)

Also known as Atlantic white-cedar, Southern white cedar, Atlantic white cypress, southern white cedar, whitecedar, false-cypress.

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Atlantic White Cedar

Summary

A native evergreen conifer of acidic wetlands of the east coast.

Range - Expand

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Native

This tentative map is based on the FHWA's ERA. This data lacks information on Canada, but also overestimates native ranges, especially around the edges, as this post explains. We have not yet reviewed or fixed this map.

USDA Plants Profile for Chamaecyparis thyoides

Fire Effects Information System (FEIS) Article for Chamaecyparis thyoides

Similar Plants

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Eastern Redcedar (Juniperus virginiana)
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thumbnail of Northern White-Cedar
Northern White-Cedar (Thuja occidentalis)
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Habitat

Found along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, in bogs, swamp forests, moist depressions, glacial kettles, along streams, and in other low, wet areas. Found in nutrient-poor, acidic soils (pH 3.5 to 5.5), including both sandy soils and organic muck or peat, but absent from areas where peat is underlain by or intermixed with silt or clay. Often found on sites that experience seasonal flooding up to 1-2 feet, but are drier in summer.

Humans have greatly reduced the habitat for this species through drainage of wetlands, as well as the cultivation of wetland crops, mainly cranberries, in former bogs and swamps. The largest remaining habitat is the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia and North Carolina, where this tree is abundant.

Life Cycle

Open-grown trees mature rapidly and begin producing seed at 3 to 5 years of age, with good seed production starting as early as the fourth year. Trees growing with competition may not produce seed until 10-20 years of age.

Seeds are lightweight and wind-dispersed; seeds do not always germinate immediately and form a short-term seed bank, with some germinating within a year but others not germinating for 2 years or more.

Seedlings establish best in open peat, rotting wood, sphagnum moss, or muck. Seedlings initially are sensitive to both drought and flooding.

Trees can live over 1,000 years, but most trees rarely live longer than 200 years.

Faunal Associations

This species is a preferred deer browse in much of its range, and seedlings are particularly favored. Meadow mice also eat seedling stems. The fruit, however, have low palatability to birds and mammals.

Several warblers utilize this species for nesting habitat, usually nesting low to the ground in it. Pileated woodpeckers nest in cavities.

Larvae of several lepidoptera species eat various parts of this tree, including both generalist herbivores, and ones that eat only closely-related plants.

Uses

Widely planted as a landscaping plant, including outside its native range. It is valued for its attractive form. It can survive on somewhat drier sites than its native habitat, as well as sites with more neutral soils, and can be grown well inland from its native range.

The wood is valued for being highly rot-resistant, easy to work with, and having a straight grain and uniform texture. It also has a similar fragrance to other so-called "cedars". Although a desirable wood, it is not quite as hard or strong as that of its close relative on the west-coast, the Port Orford cedar (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana). The wood tends to be expensive relative to other conifers, both because of its desirable properties and low availability.

Although this species lends itself well to commercial harvest, due to responding well to clearcutting, due to habitat destruction and to some degree, overharvest and mismanagement of stands, it is currently only cultivated for timber in a few areas of North Carolina.

In some parts of the south, this species is used as a Christmas tree.

This species is closely related to the port orford cedar (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana), which is native to the west coast, as well as the Japanese cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa), which has become established in the wild in New York State.

It is slightly less closely related to the various Junipers (Juniperus sp.); of these, the one that overlaps most in range is eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana). It is in turn, slightly more distantly related to the northern white-cedar (Thuja occidentalis), which only overlaps with its range in a small portion of New England.

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