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During the holiday season we find ourselves surrounded by numerous types of evergreens. We see them in either tree form or in branches, wreaths, garlands and display arrangements. As we all know, evergreen stems have a great scent regardless of type. Of course, some types are a little more fragrant than others such as the balsam and fraser fir or that of the red cedar. They all bring back memories from Christmases gone by and for the entire winter season.
One of the most common types of evergreens we are all familiar with is that of the red cedar, commonly known as the Eastern red cedar. This is the tree where we get the aromatic cedar board from in which cedar chests and closets are made.
Red cedar was first used because of its ability to repel damaging insects such as the larvae of the clothes moth. The adult moths themselves do not create much damage, as it is the growing larvae that eats through the material and causes all the problems. The red cedar has natural properties in the scent that repel these problematic nuisances and keep them from residing among the clothes in the storage areas. The resins sometimes give off a scent of turpentine to the insect, which doesn’t allow for a happy place to live.
If storing clothes or valued items in a cedar chest, make sure to have a disposable towel or cloth lining the wood first to prevent some of the saps and resins from staining your prized items. As the wood ages, the scent and repellant properties disappear, so a light sanding every year or so will refresh the scent and make them as good as new again. Make sure when using cedar wood for this reason to never stain, varnish or seal the wood in any way otherwise it loses its repellent abilities.
Eastern red cedar is one of the most common native species in the country, as it is native to 37 of the U.S. states. Its scientific name is ‘Juniperous virginiana’ and it resembles many of the juniper varieties we see in the landscape.
Many people wonder why it is so widespread throughout many of the states. Well, the fact that it thrives in dry conditions, poor soils and most any type of sunlight is a good start. It is what we would call a very hardy tree due to the elements. It is hardy through zone 4, which would cover our area. When it is young it has a beautiful pyramidal shape that is narrow and stout. As it ages, the tree can get anywhere from 30 to 40 feet tall, but in some cases and under the proper conditions it can reach up to 90 feet. As they age, they become a little more irregular in shape and sometimes develop a flat crown.
They prefer bright light, but can handle partial sun and grow in shade also, though their form is a little looser in the shade. Their trunks are solid with a red core and as they age, their base tapers similar to that of a bald cypress, but less dramatic. Their bark is strap-like and silvery when young aging to a darker brown color.
They typically do not do well in wet locations, but can handle very dry conditions and often drought situations. Prolonged conditions of drought will stunt their growth, but rarely kill them. Normal growing conditions will allow this species to grow on average of 12 to 18 inches when young and then slow to a foot or less a year in mid-age. This slow growth rate allows for a stronger wood quality.
Foliage color is usually a sage green to a blue or deep green depending on where they are growing. Most of them take on a rusty hue during the winter months, but this is natural and their true color returns come the spring season.
Cedar are often harvested in the wild for their great wood quality, but in the landscape of our gardens they hold a different allure. Most people do not harvest trees in the yard for building things, as they are specimen plantings and rarely grown for more than their ornamental purposes.
While enjoying the scents of the season, take in the individual scents of all the greens that you may encounter. Some are rich and aromatic while others are subtle and relaxing. Have a very Merry Christmas everyone and travel safe during the holidays, but above all else enjoy your time with friends and family, as that is what it is truly all about.