In the winter the Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is more easily seen. This evergreen is common through out our state. Many people see this tree as a weedy plant that invades the prairie, shading out grasses and flowers below. This tree is not a cedar nor is it red, at least not on the outside.
Early French colonists began calling it ‘baton rouge’ meaning red stick. The heartwood of the red cedar has a distinct red hue. Its scaly leaves are similar to those of true cedar trees.
This species is dioecious meaning it has male and female trees. The female trees produce small blue berries. The fruit is regularly eaten by cedar waxwing birds. The berries have been used in traditional medicine to treat joint pain, bronchitis, and skin rash. They have also been used in cooking. The red cedar’s cousin, the juniper, has berries that are used in flavoring gin.
The Eastern red cedar grows to 40 to 50 feet. The pinkish wood is valuable in woodworking. The timber produces an aromatic fragrance that repels moths. This quality makes it useful in building hope chests and lining closets.
Through proper land management, this tree can be a valued part of the ecosystem. Stop and take a look for male and female trees in the park. Take a moment to smell the aromatic trunk of the Eastern red cedar.