Home » Plants » Juniperus virginiana

Eastern Redcedar (Juniperus virginiana)

Also known as eastern red-cedar, eastern red cedar.

Page contents

Summary

An evergreen tree that is often one of the first pioneer species of disturbed habitats. It has significant potential to transform habitats.

Range - Expand

LegendColor
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 Juniperus virginiana

Illinois Wildflowers Page for Juniperus virginiana

Fire Effects Information System (FEIS) Article for Juniperus virginiana

Similar Plants

Habitat

Eastern redcedar is a pioneer species primarily found on disturbed ground and more barren, exposed sites. Prefers full sun and exposed conditions, and is usually found in nutrient-poor soil where there is less competition from other plants. Tolerates and even prefers gravel, clay, sand, rocky, and alkaline soils. Tolerates wetter conditions but usually faces more competition from other species in wetter environments. Salt tolerant, and found in brackish marshes, dunes subject to salt spray, and barrier islands subject to occasional saltwater flooding. Intolerant of fire.

Habitats include thin upland woods, exposed rocky outcroppings, sunny spots in woodland edges, sand dunes, roadsides and railroad margins, and abandoned fields. This species often grows and thrives where few other trees do. Colonizes prairies, especially in the presence of fire suppression. In most cases, occupies sites only during a brief, early phase in succession, but on some sites, like limestone outcroppings, can form a stable climax community.

Humans have massively increased the habitat for this species through agriculture, building of roads and railroads, clearing of forests and degradation of soils, and fire suppression.

Life Cycle

Plants sprout from seed and quickly establish a deep taproot, which is followed by extensive, shallow roots. On rocky sites with shallow soil, the taproot grows horizontally. Initial growth is invested mostly in the root system and show little above-ground growth during their first year. Seedlings are intolerant of shade and require extensive direct sunlight; they also tend to do better on sites with less leaf litter.

Trees begin flowering and producing seed at about 10 years of age, with production peaking between 25 and 75 years. Female and male flowers are borne on separate plants, and in one study the ratio of male to female plants tends to range from 1:1 on some sites to 2.2:1 on others. Flowers are wind-pollinated. Seeds are borne in a berry-like, fleshy cone that is commonly referred to as a "berry". Seeds mature in winter, and are primarily distributed by wintering birds which eat the fruit during a time of year when other food sources are scarce. Seedlings tend to concentrate in areas near suitable perches for fruit-eating birds.

Established trees are tolerant of some shade from other plants, but trees of any age are intolerant of heavy shade and will die under a closed forest canopy. Can live as long as 450 years on more exposed sites, but often creates conditions that result in its own elimination from the ecosystem in a much shorter time-frame, as it is replaced by more shade-tolerant tree species that eventually shade it out.

The leaf litter from this species is very high in calcium, which tends to increase the soil pH. On many sites, with naturally acidic soils and calcium being a limiting factor in plant growth, over time this favors other more shade-tolerant vegetation.

Faunal Associations

Berries are eaten by birds, mostly overwintering birds in winter and early spring. Hosts cedar-apple rust.

Uses

The wood of this species is aromatic and rot-resistant. It has moth-repellant properties, and as such is often used for constructing chests or closets in which to store clothing.

It is sometimes used as a landscaping plant, especially as a windbreak where it is valued for its robustness on exposed sites. It has some undesireable features as a landscaping plant, including sharp, prickly foliage, poor shade tolerance, which can lead to unattractive, unhealthy trees on shaded sites, and the fact that it hosts cedar-apple rust, which harms apple trees. Several cultivars exist.

There are numerous other Juniperus species in North America, almost all native except for three introduced species that have become introduced in a few isolated areas. In most of this species' range, it is the only member of its genus, but it overlaps with numerous other species at the north and west borders of its range.

In the north and the extreme west of its range, it overlaps widely with common juniper (Juniperus communis). In the extreme north of its range, it also overlaps with creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis). Both of these are primarily mat-forming plants, but common juniper can sometimes also grow upright like a tree.

At the west of this species range, it also overlaps with rocky mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum), and in the southwest, with Pinchot's juniper (Juniperus pinchotii) and oneseed juniper (Juniperus monosperma). There is also significant overlap with Ashe's juniper (Juniperus ashei) from Arkansas west into Oklahoma and barely south into Texas.

The broader Cupressoideae subfamily of the Cupressaceae (Cypress) family contains numerous other genera. Of them, two overlap with this one in range: northern white-cedar (Thuja occidentalis) in the north and in the Appalachians, and atlantic white cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides) along the Atlantic coast.

Notes

Contrasting with most coniferous trees, whose leaf litter makes the soil more acidic, the litter of the eastern redcedar tends to make the soil more alkaline due to being high in calcium.

Photo gallery