White Cedar–the tree of life

This tree is one of that group of evergreens which is so important to the ecology and industry of eastern North America. It is found all the way from Nova Scotia to Manitoba, north to James Bay and south to Virginia.
The White Cedar does not have needles like other evergreens do. Rather, it has little, flat, scale-like leaves which have different shapes. Some are flat and pointy, but on the growing tips, they are all flat and rounded.
Like other evergreens, there are two kinds of flowers on the tree, male and female. They are both small, green, and inconspicuous.
When the female flowers mature into a cone, these are still only about a centimeter long. They ripen in the fall and are dropped the next year.
Cedars grow in many types of soil. We often speak of “cedar swamps,” and the tree does grow in fairly moist areas. Yet it also grows profusely on dry sandy soils such as are found on the shores of the Great Lakes. But the very best growth occurs on good soils.
When the White Cedar grows alone, it has a very pleasing shape, with thick foliage right down to the ground. But when it grows in stands, you will find the trunk going up many feet before there are any branches at all.
Cedars are not considered to be very large trees today, perhaps 60 feet tall or so. But look at this. When one of the first English expeditions landed in North Carolina, they found a vast forest of giant cedars 18 feet or more in circumference–with trunks rising 60 feet or more before there were any branches.
Of course, these trees had been undisturbed for centuries.
This doesn’t happen any more. For curiosity, the largest cedar still alive is in Michigan, standing more than 117 feet high and six feet in diameter.
Cedar wood is light and not very strong but it is quite resistant to decay, hence its use for poles, posts, boxes and so on, along with shingles. It also is quite pliable, and was used extensively for canoes before the age of plastic and aluminum.
Cedar forests are prime wintering areas for deer. The dense growth makes a good windbreak, and the young trees may be heavily browsed during the deep part of winter. The seeds are eaten by some birds, and the Snowshoe Hare finds both bark and twigs a good source of food.
A great many forest birds either make their nests, or find shelter, in the dense branches.
In reality, cedars are part of a group properly called Arbor-vitae, which means “Tree of Life,” a name conferred by the King of France.
Early French explorers suffered terribly from scurvy. The Indians showed them how to make a tea from cedar leaves, which supplied the missing vitamin C and did away with the scurvy. Hence the name “Tree of Life.”
The Eastern White Cedar, Thuja occidentalis, is a most important cog in the wheels of both nature and industry in eastern North America.

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