RED CEDAR (Juniperus spp.) its common names include red cedar, eastern red-cedar, eastern redcedar, eastern juniper, red juniper, pencil cedar, and aromatic cedar — is a species of juniper native to eastern North America from southeastern Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and east of the Great Plains. Further west it is replaced by the related Juniperus scopulorum (Rocky Mountain Juniper) and to the southwest by Juniperus ashei (Ashe Juniper).
Juniperus virginiana is a dense slow-growing coniferous evergreen tree that may never become more than a bush on poor soil, but is ordinarily from 5–20 m or 16–66 ft (rarely to 27 m or 89 ft) tall, with a short trunk 30–100 cm or 12–39 in (rarely 170 cm or 67 in) diameter. The oldest tree reported, from Missouri, was 795 years old. The bark is reddish-brown, fibrous, and peels off in narrow strips. The leaves are of two types; sharp, spreading needle-like juvenile leaves 5–10 cm (2.0–3.9 in) long, and tightly adpressed scale-like adult leaves 2–4 mm (0.079–0.157 in) long; they are arranged in opposite decussate pairs or occasionally whorls of three. The juvenile leaves are found on young plants up to 3 years old, and as scattered shoots on adult trees, usually in shade. The seed cones are 3–7 mm (0.12–0.28 in) long, berry-like, dark purple-blue with a white wax cover giving an overall sky-blue color (though the wax often rubs off); they contain one to three (rarely up to four) seeds, and are mature in 6–8 months from pollination. The Juniper berry is an important winter food for many birds, which disperse the wingless seeds. The pollen cones are 2–3 mm (0.079–0.118 in) long and 1.5 mm (0.059 in) broad, shedding pollen in late winter or early spring. The trees are usually dioecious, with pollen and seed cones on separate trees.
It is a pioneer invader, which means that it is one of the first trees to repopulate cleared, eroded, or otherwise damaged land. It is unusually long lived among pioneer species, with the potential to live over 850 years. The tree is commonly found in prairies or oak barrens, old pastures, or limestone hills, often along highways and near recent construction sites. It is an alternate host for cedar-apple rust disease, an economically significant disease of apples, and some management strategies recommend the removal of J. virginiana near apple orchards
In many areas the trees are considered an invasive species, even if native. The fire intolerant J. virginiana was previously controlled by periodic wildfires. Low branches near the ground burn and provide a ladder that allows fire to engulf the whole tree. Grasses recover quickly from low severity fires that are characteristic of prairies that kept the trees at bay. With the urbanization of prairies, the fires have been stopped with roads, plowed fields, and other fire breaks, allowing J. virginiana and other trees to invade. Trees are destructive to grasslands if left unchecked, and are actively being eliminated by cutting and prescribed burning. The trees also burn very readily, and dense populations were blamed for the rapid spread of wildfires in drought stricken Oklahoma and Texas in 2005 and 2006.
Junipers also benefit from the increased CO2 levels, unlike the grasses with which they compete. Many grasses are C4 plants that concentrate CO2 levels in their bundle sheaths to increase the efficiency of RuBisCO, the enzyme responsible for photosynthesis, while Junipers are C3 plants that rely on (and may benefit from) the natural CO2 concentrations of the environment, although they are less efficient at fixing CO2 in general.
Damage done by J. virginiana includes outcompeting forage species in pastureland. The low branches and wide base occupy a significant portion of land area. The thick foliage blocks out most light, so few plants can live under the canopy. The needles that fall raise the pH of the soil, making it alkaline, which holds nutrients such as phosphorus, making it harder for plants to absorb them. Juniperus virginiana has been shown to remove nitrogen from the soil after invading prairies. It has also been found to reduce carbon stores in the soil. This reduction in soil nutrients also reduces the amount and diversity of microbial activity in the soil.
Cedar waxwings are fond of the “berries” of these junipers. It takes about 12 minutes for their seeds to pass through the birds’ guts, and seeds that have been consumed by this bird have levels of germination roughly three times higher than those of seeds the birds did not eat. Many other birds (from bluebirds to turkeys) and many mammals also consume them.
The fine-grained, soft brittle pinkish- to brownish-red heartwood is fragrant, very light and very durable, even in contact with soil. Because of its rot resistance, the wood is used for fence posts. The aromatic wood is avoided by moths, so it is in demand as lining for clothes chests and closets, often referred to as cedar closets and cedar chests. If correctly prepared, it makes excellent English longbows, flatbows, and Native American sinew-backed bows. The wood is marketed as “eastern redcedar” or “aromatic cedar”. The best portions of the heartwood are one of the few woods good for making pencils, but the supply had diminished sufficiently by the 1940s that it was largely replaced by incense-cedar.
Juniper oil is distilled from the wood, twigs and leaves. The essential oil contains cedrol which has toxic and possibly carcinogenic properties. The cones are used to flavor gin
Native American tribes have historically used juniper wood poles to mark out agreed tribal hunting territories. French traders named Baton Rouge, Louisiana, (meaning “red stick”) from the reddish color of these poles. It is still used in ceremony by some Nations.
During the Dust Bowl drought of the 1930s, the Prairie States Forest Project encouraged farmers to plant shelterbelts (wind breaks) made of eastern juniper throughout the Great Plains. They grow well under adverse conditions. Both drought tolerant and cold tolerant, they grow well in rocky, sandy, and clay substrate. Competition between trees is minimal, so they can be planted in tightly spaced rows, and the trees still grow to full height, creating a solid windbreak in a short time.
A number of cultivars have been selected for garden planting, including ‘Canaertii’ (narrow conical; female) ‘Corcorcor’ (with a dense, erect crown; female), ‘Goldspire’ (narrow conical with yellow foliage), and ‘Kobold’ (dwarf). Some cultivars previously listed under this species, notably ‘Skyrocket’, are actually cultivars of J. scopulorum.
In the Missouri and Arkansas Ozarks, eastern juniper is commonly used as a Christmas tree.
(Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)