Eastern Shore Food Lab

Juniperus virginiana - Red Cedar

The hearty Juniperus virginiana serves many functions, such as providing food and habitat to birds, being decorated as a Christmas tree, and is used in wood construction.

Scientific Name: Juniperus virginiana
Common Name: Eastern Red Cedar
Plant Family: Cupressaceae (cypress family)
Etymology: Juniperus translates directly to juniper in Latin, but in Dutch juniper (genever) refers to distilled gin. 

Edible Parts

The fruit and leaves can be made into a tea or concoction. The fruit is often used to add flavoring to soups. Note: the fleshy cones covering the berries are slightly toxic.

Historic Uses

Juniperus virginiana was a popular source of wood for colonists in Virginia. They used it to make furniture, fencing, and houses. The Kiowa used Juniperus virginiana needles as a spiritual incense and they used the aromatic wood to make flutes. The Creeks and Choctaw used the fruits and leaves to make tea that relieves coughs, colds, and canker sores. In addition, the leaves were used to treat chest pains and skin problems.

Habitat

Juniperus virginiana grows best in dry, well-drained soils. You may find this tree growing in limestone soils, on rocky slopes, and in old, dry pastures.

How to Identify

Plants in the Juniperus species are usually aromatic with resistant wood and evergreen foliage. They have leathery seed cones and the juniper “berry” is actually a cone covered in fleshy scales. They have two types of leaves; the young leaves are short, sharp needles and the older leaves are flatter and scaly. In addition, the female trees have black and blue berries.

Additional Information

The juniper berries contain potent oils that make them bitter and popular for gin-making. The eastern red cedar’s bark shreds off and provides nest-building material for many birds. An essential oil can be extracted from the wood and is often used in candles, soaps, and bug repellents. 

Planting Considerations

  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-9
  • Native Range: Eastern United States
  • Forest Garden Layer: canopy
  • Permaculture functions: could act as a barrier plant in gardens for it tolerates strong winds and provides great protection from the elements
  • Soil moisture: dry
  • Soil texture: Sandy, medium loam, medium clay, rocky
  • Soil pH: acid to alkaline
  • Height: 30-65 ft.
  • Spread: about 20 ft.
  • Growth rate: slow
  • Sun: full sun or part shade
  • Bloom: aromatic, green, purple, and brown from March-May
  • Attracts: birds, butterflies, squirrels
  • Tolerates: drought, road salt, poor soils, heat, cold
  • Drawbacks: is a host of cedar-apple rust (a fungal disease)

Sources

  • Ellis, Barbara W. Chesapeake Gardening and Landscaping: The Essential Green Guide. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 2015.
  • Elpel, J. Thomas Botany In a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification. Pony, Montana: HOPS Press, 2013.
  • Meredith, Leda Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plum to Wineberries. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, 2014.
  • Moerman, Daniel E. Native American Ethnobotany. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, 1998.

On the Web