Red Cedar

Garden Clippings for Feb 18, 2023

In United States they call them Red Cedars, but north of the 49th, we call them Junipers.

In Canada we know Cedars to be the big family of Thujas, pronounced “thuya”.  In United States, Thujas are given the complicated name of Arborvitaes.

To make matters worse, in Canada we don’t really know what to call Red Cedars, which botanically and properly are named Juniperus virginiana.  Some call them Eastern Redcedars, while other names that have been floated around include Native Juniper, Virginian Juniper, Eastern Juniper, and Red Juniper.

Native Junipers can be found growing randomly along roadsides and gravel pathways,  in abandoned fields, and wherever soil is dry.  Take a drive along Highway 402 and you will see plenty Native Junipers near the Airport Road exit.  You can also find a few along the Howard Watson Nature Trail.

Interestingly, Native Junipers will often be found growing in neglected grassy fields underneath hydro wires.  You can guess why.  A wonderful story to share with school-aged kids.

The growing range for Native Junipers is the east half of USA, excluding the warm states of Florida and Texas.  In Canada they can be found east of Thunder Bay all the way to the Maritimes.

Native Junipers are one of only a handful of conifers that are native and indigenous to Southwestern Ontario.  They are not a large growing tree and not particularly pretty.  Their shape is upright, often losing their lower limbs with age.  Spring and summer colour is rich green, while winter colour is bronzy-brown, a result of wind drawing moisture from their foliage.

A noteworthy characteristic of Native Juniper is the cherry-red heartwood, evident only when making a fresh cut.  Unfortunately, as quickly as the red lumber appears, it turns brownish when exposed to the outdoors.

Birds love nesting in the limbs of Native Juniper, seeking shelter from cold wind.  Needles are sharp, offering protection for birds from predators.

Native Junipers, when mature, produce an abundance of berries, covered in light blue powder, appearing in late summer on female plants only.  Berries persist through winter and become a major source of food for many birds, especially Robins, Cardinals, Finch and Wild Turkey.

It is only recently that nurseries have begun to grow and sell Native Junipers, a response to the growing trend of landscaping with native plants.