Bogs and Acidic Peatlands of Southern New England by Marsha C. Salett
Thuja occidentalis L.
CUPRESSACEAE (Cypress Family)
EtymologyThuja means a type of juniper or fragrant, resinous tree, from the Greek "thuia"; occidentalis is Latin for Western or of the West.
Synonyms (Common Name)Arbor Vitae, Eastern White Cedar, Swamp Cedar
DescriptionNorthern White Cedar is an evergreen coniferous tree with scale-like needles in flat, horizontal sprays. The needles and the peeling, reddish-brown bark are strongly scented. More common in northern New England, it reaches heights of 60 feet in peatland margins and swamps, but is much smaller in Sphagnum mats.
Wetland indicator statusFACW
Plant Height60 feet
LeavesEvergreen, opposite, small (1/16-3/16"), scale-like needle with resin gland on back; yellow-green; flat horizontal sprays; arranged in four overlapping rows completely covering twigs.
FruitCone is oblong, small (1/2" long) reddish-brown, woody; scales thin and overlapping.
Fruiting PeriodApril-May, mature in single growing season, persist for one year.
HabitatMixed or conifer swamps, fens, moist soils.
RangeNova Scotia to Saskatchewan; south to New Jersey and Minnesota; mountains to North Carolina and Tennessee.
Larch (Larix laricina)
Black Spruce (Picea mariana)
Black Ash (Fraxinus nigra)
Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis)
Red Maple (Acer rubrum)
Speckled Alder (Alnus incana ssp.rugosa)
Black Chokeberry (Photinia melanocarpa)
Mountain Holly (Nemopanthus mucronatus)
Sweet Gale (Myrica gale)
Wild Raisin (Viburnum nudum var. cassinoides)
Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)
Herbs/Groundcovers: Sphagnum mosses
Creeping Snowberry (Gaultheria hispidula)
Swamp Dewberry (Rubus hispidus)
Similar Species
Atlantic White Cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides) has spherical rather than oblong cones and is less aromatic than Northern white cedar; it occurs on the coastal plain and has a more southerly distribution.
Eastern Red Cedar(Juniperus virginiana) [which is really a juniper] has sprays of sharp, three-sided needles and blue fruit with a gin-like scent; it grows in dry upland habitats.
Seasonal Diagnostics
Spring: Immature cones appear in April-May.
Fall: Ripe cones are woody and reddish-brown, and persist through winter and early spring
(c) 1998-2006 Marsha C. Salett