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Thuja occidentalis (Arborvitae)
Wasowski, Sally and Andy

Thuja occidentalis

Thuja occidentalis L.

Arborvitae, Eastern arborvitae, Northern white cedar

Cupressaceae (Cypress Family)

Synonym(s): Thuja occidentalis f. malonyana, Thuja occidentalis var. fastigiata, Thuja occidentalis var. nigra, Thuja occidentalis var. pyramidalis

USDA Symbol: THOC2

USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N)

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.

 

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

Distribution

USA: CT , IA , IL , IN , KY , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , NC , NH , NJ , NY , OH , PA , RI , TN , VA , VT , WI , WV
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: Dry , Moist
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.

Benefit

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

Propagation

Seed Collection: Not Available
Seed Treatment: Not Available
Commercially Avail: yes

Find Seed or Plants

View propagation protocol from Native Plants Network.

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National Wetland Indicator Status

Region:AGCPAKAWCBEMPGPHIMWNCNEWMVE
Status: UPL FACW FACW FACW FACW
This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1 (Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here for map of regions.

From the National Suppliers Directory

According to the inventory provided by Associate Suppliers, this plant is available at the following locations:

Edge of the Woods Native Plant Nursery - Orefield, PA

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is either on display or available from the following:

Delaware Nature Society - Hockessin, DE
Mt. Cuba Center - Hockessin, DE

Bibliography

Bibref 841 - Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants (2006) Burrell, C. C.

Search More Titles in Bibliography

Additional resources

USDA: Find Thuja occidentalis in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Thuja occidentalis in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Thuja occidentalis

Metadata

Record Last Modified: 2008-05-22
Research By: TWC Staff

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