Also known as American arborvitae, this member of the cypress family is an evergreen gem and a far superior alternative to the non-native Asian varieties often used to create privacy screens. A powerhouse as a native habitat tree, the leaves are lacy, flat, dark green plates that are soft to the touch. Branches are dense to the ground, making it a wonderful tree for creating privacy and offering windbreak. Particularly beautiful and more valuable to wildlife when used as part of a mixed screen or hedge.
Most abundant in low, swampy areas and along streams and lake shores.
Can be heavily pruned in spring, because, unlike many evergreens, new branches develop in the branch crotches.
Slow to moderate growth to 40-50’ tall with a spread of 6-20.’
Prefers sun to part shade. Becomes leggy in too much shade.
Prefers moist to wet, well-drained soils but adapts to rocky, dry and poorly drained sites.
A host plant for 32 species of Lepidoptera larva in central Ohio, including four specialist moths that feed on Thuja, Pinus (pine), and/or Juniperus (cedar) in our area: jocose sallow, juniper geometer, pine tube, and southern variable dart moths. Supports numerous species of beneficial insects such as beetles and plant bugs, most of which are eaten by American robins, juncos, cardinals and chickadees. Dense foliage is used for shelter by many migratory songbirds, such as the wood thrush, and by several sparrows and warblers. The seeds are a preferred food for pine siskins. The peeling bark is used for nesting materials by several bird species. Provides habitat and thermal cover for deer and other woodland mammals. Deer, porcupines, squirrels, and beavers love to help prune these trees, particularly in winter when other browse is scarce.
Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:
Native Americans used the white cedar to treat headaches, coughs, pneumonia, colds and fever. A poultice of powdered wood was used for rashes and skin irritations.
The inner bark was eaten fresh or dried to make into a flour. The needles can be used to make a high vitamin C tea; however, the oil that floats up during steeping is toxic to humans and must be carefully skimmed off.
The wood is highly prized due to its light weight and resistance to decay. It is often used to make shingles and fencing. Native Americans often carved out the trunks to make canoes.
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