Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana), a member of the cypress family, is a long-lived evergreen that grows throughout the eastern part of the United States. Gardeners appreciate this species as a plant screen and windbreak in the landscape. Its wide distribution indicates adaptability to varying conditions.

Juniper branch with berries
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Foliage of Eastern red cedar is dark green in summer and bronze in winter.

About Red Cedar

Eastern red cedar has a pyramidal form and typically reaches 35 feet tall. However, in moist conditions, trees grow almost twice as tall, peaking at 60 feet. Foliage is dark green and remains year round, providing a wintry shelter for birds and other wildlife. Plants are either male or female. Male plants bear small cones that release a cloud of pollen in late winter. Female plants develop blue, fleshy berries. Reddish bark sheds throughout the year and provides nesting material for cardinals.

Temperature and Soil

Eastern red cedar is widely distributed in the eastern part of the United States and is adaptable to a range of climates and soils. Northern populations withstand frigid temperatures around minus 45 Fahrenheit and grow with less yearly precipitation than Southern populations. According to the USDA, Eastern red cedar tolerates salt and dry conditions. In shallow soils, the root system is fibrous and grabs moisture and nutrients from the top surface. Eastern red cedar adapts its root structure in well-drained sites and forms a deep taproot.

Seed Dispersal

Female trees of Eastern red cedar develop fleshy berries that are attractive to wildlife such as quail, wild turkey, fox and waxwing. Each berry contains one to four seeds and has a high fiber and fat content. Birds and animals eat the berries and drop seeds along their journey. This is a common type of adaptation for seed dispersal. In general, plants with showy, fleshy fruit disperse seeds with help from wildlife.

Lack of Fire Adaptation

Populations of Eastern red cedar have developed adaptations to cope with water limitations, varying climates and different soils. One adaptation that this tree does not possess is fire adaptation. Because Eastern red cedar lacks buds at the base of the shoot, it cannot resprout when its top is damaged. According to Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service website, the lack of basal buds indicates Eastern red cedar did not form an evolutionary coping mechanism to fire.