Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - The University of Texas at Austin information

 Native Plant Database

Thuja occidentalis

Arborvitae, Eastern arborvitae, Northern white cedar

Cupressaceae (Cypress Family)

Thuja occidentalis (Arborvitae)
Smith, R.W.
In a crowded environment, this tree is slender and not well-branched. In the open, it improves in form and density. The evergreen can be single- or multi-trunked and columnar or conical in shape. Eastern arborvitae can grow 40-60 ft. tall, but under cultivation will probably be no taller than 30 ft. Branches end in flat, spreading, horizontal sprays of fragrant, dark-green foliage which turns yellow-green or slight brown in winter. Resinous and aromatic evergreen tree with angled, buttressed, often branched trunk and a narrow, conical crown of short, spreading branches.

Probably the first North American tree introduced into Europe, it was discovered by French explorers and grown in Paris about 1536. The year before, tea prepared from the foliage and bark, now known to be high in vitamin C, saved the crew of Jacques Cartier from scurvy. It was named arborvitae, Latin for tree-of-life, in 1558. The trees grow slowly and reach an age of 400 years or more. The lightweight, easily split wood was preferred for canoe frames by Native Americans, who also used the shredded outer bark and the soft wood to start fires. Today, the wood is used principally for poles, cross-ties, posts, and lumber. Cedar oil for medicine is distilled from the twigs.

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Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Tree
Leaf: Green
Fruit: Red, Brown
Size Class: 72-100 ft.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: Yellow , Green , Brown
Bloom Time: Apr


USA: CT , IL , IN , IA , KY , ME , MD , MA , MI , MN , NH , NJ , NY , NC , OH , PA , RI , TN , VT , VA , WV , WI
Canada: MB , NB , NL , NS , ON , PE , QC
Native Distribution: E. Que. to s.e. Man., s. to NJ, MI, n. WI & n. MN; scattered in s. Appalacians; adventive in s.w. New England
Native Habitat: Swampy areas; lake margins; open, rocky hillsides

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Medium
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist , Dry
Soil pH: Circumneutral (pH 6.8-7.2)
CaCO3 Tolerance: High
Soil Description: Moist, well-drained alkaline soils.
Conditions Comments: Arbor vitae can be used as a specimen or as a hedge. Plants are susceptible to strong wind, snow, and ice damage, and young plants need protection from winter browsers. The species tolerates air pollution and heat as long as it is rooted in cool, moist soil. The highly aromatic plant provides food and cover for birds.


Use Wildlife: Food and cover for birds.
Use Food: First Nations people used eastern white-cedar to prevent scurvy and taught this practice to French settlers, giving rise to the name arborvitae, or ree of life. The Arbor-vitae sap contains vitamin C. (Kershaw)
Use Other: First Nations of the north used it for frames for their canoes. (Peattie)
Fragrant Flowers: yes
Interesting Foliage: yes
Fragrant Foliage: yes
Attracts: Birds

Last Update: 2015-03-20