Eastern Red Cedar
Juniperus virginiana
Cypress family (Cupressaceae)

Description: This evergreen coniferous tree is 30-80' tall, forming a short trunk and a crown that is ovoid, oblongoid, or conical in shape. The trunk is usually undivided at the base, although it may form 2 or more major branches above that are ascending. Smaller branches are more or less widely spreading, while young twigs are abundantly branched in various directions. Trunk bark is usually reddish brown, thin, and fibrous, tearing off in linear strips; on older slow-growing trees, it may become more gray and thick. Branch bark is brown or reddish brown and slightly flaky or bumpy, while young twigs are green and angular (they are largely hidden by the abundant leaves). Eastern Red Cedar produces two kinds of leaves: awl-shaped and scale-shaped. Awl-shaped leaves occur on trees only 1-3 years old and sometimes on older trees where there are vigorous shoots. Scale-shaped leaves are found on older trees (exceeding 3 years), where they are the dominant type of leaf. Awl-shaped leaves are 3-12 mm. (1/8–1/2") long and linear in shape, while scale-shaped leaves are 1.5-3 mm. (1/16–1/8") long and lanceolate-ovate in shape. Both types of leaves are hairless and they become dark green at maturity. The awl-shaped leaves are usually arranged oppositely in 2 or 4 ranks along the twigs, while the scale-shaped leaves are arranged oppositely in 4 appressed overlapping ranks.

Eastern Red Cedar is dioecious, producing pollen cones (male flowers) and seed cones (female flowers & fruits) on separate trees. The yellowish pollen cones are about 3 mm. (1/8") long and oblongoid to ovoid in shape; they are typically produced in large groups. They release their pollen to the wind during the spring and cross-pollinate the seed cones. The seed cones are initially green, but they later become pale blue from a waxy coating during the fall. Individual seed cones are about " across, globoid, and berry-like in appearance; they are waxy-fleshy, sweet-tasting, and resinous. Each seed cone typically contains 1-2 bony seeds about 1/8" (3 mm.) long (rarely there are 3-4 seeds). The woody root system is shallow and spreading. This tree reproduces by reseeding itself.

Cultivation: The preference is full sun, mesic to dry conditions, and nutrient-poor soil containing gravel, sand, clay, or rocky material. Eastern Red Cedar is more tolerant of alkaline soil than most conifers. Under favorable conditions, it can be a relatively long-lived tree (up to 300 years, or more), but some trees die out at a comparatively young age from insects, disease, storm-damage, or competition from other species of trees. Because Eastern Red Cedar is an alternate host of a fungal disease, cedar-apple rust, it may not be desirable to plant this tree near apples and crab apples.

Range & Habitat: Eastern Red Cedar is a common native tree that is found throughout Illinois (see Distribution Map); it probably occurs in every county. Habitats include thin upland woodlands, rocky bluffs, wooded slopes, woodland edges, sandstone and limestone glades, rocky cliffs, stabilized sand dunes, sandy savannas, roadside embankments, gravelly areas along railroads, fence rows, old cemeteries, and abandoned fields. Sometimes Eastern Red Cedar is cultivated as a landscape plant and for windbreaks. This is a pioneer tree that colonizes sunny areas that are relatively dry and sterile. Because of its thin bark and low branches, it has poor resistance to fire.

Faunal Associations: An interesting variety of insects feed on Eastern Red Cedar. These species include the caterpillars of the butterfly Callophrys gryneus (Olive Hairstreak), the caterpillars of Patalene olyzonaria (Juniper Geometer) and other moths, the caterpillar-like larvae of Monoctenus fulvus (Juniper Sawfly) and Monoctenus melliceps (Arborvitae Sawfly), Phloeosinus dentatus (Eastern Juniper Bark Beetle) and Phloeosinus canadensis (Northern Cedar Bark Beetle), the larvae of several long-horned beetles, the larvae of the metallic wood-boring beetle Chrysobothris neotexana, both larvae and adults of Phyllobius intrusus (Arborvitae Weevil), the flea beetle Paria sexnotata, Parthenolecanium fletcheri (Fletcher Scale) and Carulaspis juniperi (Juniper Scale), the leafhoppers Empoasca junipera and Scaphoideus opalinus, the seed bug Eremocoris fera, Cinara juniperivora (Juniper Aphid), the stink bug Banasa packardii, several plant bugs, the larvae of Contarinia juniperina (Juniper Midge) and Oligotrophus betheli (Juniper Tip Midge), and several thrips (see the Insect Table for a more complete listing of these species). Because they are relatively high in carbohydrates and fats, the berry-like cones are eaten by many songbirds and some upland gamebirds (see Bird Table). Because of its fondness for the berry-like cones, the Cedar Waxwing was even named after this tree. Bird species that are partial to Eastern Red Cedar as a site for their nests include Cooper's Hawk, Blue Jay, Northern Mockingbird, Robin, Prairie Warbler, Pine Warbler, House Finch, Chipping Sparrow, Song Sparrow, and Field Sparrow. Because of the protective cover of the evergreen leaves, owls, sparrows, and other birds often roost in this tree. The berry-like seed cones are also eaten by the Black Bear, Gray Fox, Opossum, Eastern Chipmunk, and White-Footed Mouse. White-Tailed Deer occasionally browse on the leaves and twigs.

Photographic Location: A cemetery in Urbana, Illinois.

Comments: Even though it is often referred to as a 'red cedar,' this tree is actually a juniper. Therefore, a more appropriate name for this species would be 'Eastern Red Juniper' or 'Eastern Juniper.' This is the only tree-like species of juniper that is native to Illinois. Two other native species, Juniperus communis (Ground Juniper) and Juniperus horizontalis (Trailing Juniper), are both low-growing shrubs that rarely exceed 3' in height (although some cultivars of Ground Juniper can be taller). In Illinois, they are typically found on sand dunes. Because of its tall erect habit, scale-shaped leaves, and pale blue seed cones, it is relatively easy to distinguish Eastern Red Cedar from other conifers.