Nature Connection #12 – Cedars (Achoo!)

Ooooh, I’m almost too late for this one! The Bradford Pears are blooming and so are the native crabapples. There is color in the woods, and in our yards, and it’s not even MARCH!

I wanted to talk to you about Eastern Red Cedars! They are the ‘christmas’ trees that grow so easily throughout Oklahomak, adding spots (or blotches) of green to our otherwise brown winter landscape. Snow drapes on their branches, and little birds flit in and out from the safety of their boughs.

However, the usually green cedar trees that are so prevalent in Oklahoma have recently turned golden. And it has nothing to do with fall, they are not responding to a drop in sunlight. They are pollinating. (Are your eyes itching and watering? Is that the start of a sneeze?)

Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is  native (grows naturally) in Oklahoma and 36 other states of the southeastern and eastern U.S.  It is one of 13 different species of Juniper trees found in the U.S. Most of them grow to be 30-40 feet tall, but they can reach heights of  90 feet.
These trees are a prolific species, able to withstand extremes in temperature, and drought. Their roots go straight down into the ground, sucking up whatever moisture they can find to survive. Their blue-gray seeds nourish birds and small animals throughout the winter, and their limbs provide shelter. Seeds, dropped in bird feces from telephone wires and the limbs of other trees, begin the next generation of cedars.

Tree scientists have calculated the age of some cedars in Oklahoma and other southern states at more than four hundred years old. Their long lives usually attributed to the location, rocky hillsides of the Ozarks and eastern states. This species was able to gain a foothold there, where prairie fires didn’t burn. It was these fires that historically kept these trees from taking over in the centuries prior to development during the 20th century.
Now, the small cedars are no longer controlled by the natural mean of prairie fire. These trees cover land that was formerly grazing land, turning it into dense cedar/oak forests. 

Cedars have become a problem species throughout the grasslands of the central United States and even down through the Hill Country of Texas. The trees suck up moisture needed by other trees and plants. Their pollen triggers our allergies, and the moist oxygen these trees release has caused moderately dry climates to become more humid. 

But there are uses for cedar trees. In the past, Eastern Red Cedar wood has been used for furniture, rail fences, shingles, benches and tables, small boxes, bows and even coffins. Naturally pest resistent, it is used to line closets, and is a natural repellent to moths. It is sometimes used for decking, shingles or siding. Some sawmills can be found that will process red cedar trees, and mulch made from these trees is great for flower beds because of its natural resistance to insect pests.

This juniper had many medicinal used for Native Americans in North America, including teas and salves for various ailments. It has also been used in perfumes, and at one time was exclusively the source of wood for making pencils.
It is a very aromatic tree. But it is the oil in the wood that also makes it dangerous when planted too close to a home. The tree is very flamable and contains volatile oils. It is best to keep cedar trees under six feet tall if planted close to the house, and to keep full size trees at least 60 feet away from your home.

Scientists are at work to determine how these trees can become commercially profitable in the states where they have become a problem. Oklahoma State University is researching possible uses for these trees, as well as ways that the spread of the species can be contained.

Do Eastern Red Cedar trees grow in your neighborhood? In your yard? If not, check nearby parks and green spaces, or fencerows on the outskirts of town. You are bound to find this prolific species growing nearby. And remember,  when these normally green to blue-green trees turn yellow, stock up on antihistamines and tissue. You’re probably going to need it!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s