Northern White-cedar (Thuja occidentalis)

Northern White-cedar (Thuja occidentalis)

The Northern White-cedar (Thuja occidentalis); also called Eastern Arborvitae, American Arborvitae, Eastern White-cedar, Swamp-cedar, and Atlantic Red Cedar; is an aromatic, monoecious, evergreen conifer in the Cypress Family (Cupressaceae). The family name is from the Latin for "cypress tree." The genus name is an old name for a resinous evergreen. The species name is from the Latin for "western." This valuable tree is common on Mount Desert Island although not very common in the vicinity of French Hill Pond. It is the only species of cedar tree native to Mount Desert Island. All other native members of the Cypress Family on Mount Desert Island are shrubs. The photograph above shows a Northern White-cedar at the south end of French Hill Pond adjacent to the brook. These trees prefer wet areas. this slow-growing tree can live up to 400 years.

The common name derives from the color of the lumber from this tree. It is often planted as an ornamental at which time it is called an Arborvitae or Arbor Vitae, Latin for "tree-of-life." It can be pruned to create a hedge or keep it as a shrub. The lumber is light weight and resistant to decay. It is used for shingles, log homes, posts, fences, paneling and various small wood products. The boughs are used in floral arrangements and distilled to produce cedar-leaf oil. This oil is used in fragrances and medicines. The leaves are high in vitamin C and their consumption saved the explorer Jacques Cartier's crew from scurvy, whence the name "tree-of-life."

The following photograph shows entwined Northern White-cedars by Bubble Pond in Acadia National Park. These trees can take on remarkable shapes and thrive in difficult conditions. This species is the first known New-world tree to be introduced in Europe by French explorers in the late sixteenth century.

Cedar in Rocks

The Northern White-cedar can grow to 70 feet (21 meters) tall with a trunk diameter of up to three feet (0.9 meters). The shape is pyramidal with a conical top.

The leaves are scales up to ⅛ inch (3 millimeters) long, touching one another and arranged opposite in four rows forming the compound leaves shown in the photograph below. They are yellow-green above and a pale, blue-green beneath. Sometimes the leaves will turn a yellow-brown in winter.

Northern White-cedar (Thuja occidentalis) Leaves

The flowers of this tree are imperfect and scattered near the ends of branches. Male flowers are red and the female flowers are brown. The fruit is an ellipsoidal, brown cone about ½ inch (1.27 centimeters) long. they are scattered in clusters near the ends of branches. Each cone has about eight, ¼ inch (7 millimeter) wide, brown, winged seeds. There are 345,600 seeds per pound (0.45 kilograms).

Northern White-cedar (Thuja occidentalis) Leaves and Cones

In spite of their size, the cone clusters are easily seen on the tree.

Northern White-cedar (Thuja occidentalis) Top

The bark is gray to reddish-brown, thin, fibrous and separated into flat ridges.

Northern White-cedar (Thuja occidentalis) Bark

The Northern White-cedar is non-toxic. The boughs are eaten by deer during winter.

The root system minimum depth is 30 inches (76 centimeters).

Trees Technical Data and Information French Hill Pond Home