How to Identify Evergreen Trees Part 5: The Cedar Tree

How to Identify Evergreen Trees Part 5: The Cedar Tree


Aromatic and outstanding evergreens, the Cedar is an impressive tree that adds their towering form to your landscape! While the layman on a nature walk may not be able to tell a Pine from a Juniper, there are many varieties of Evergreen trees out there, and with a few moments of closer inspection and some help from Nature Hills Nursery, you’ll be able to pick out the differences and tell them apart!

Today in Part 5 - it’s all about the Cedar Tree!

All About True Cedar Trees

Members of the Cupressaceae family, true Cedars include the Cedrus genus. True Cedars belong to the Pinaceae family, consisting of four species. They are evergreen, Coniferous trees and shrubs. Cedrus is a non-native Cedar, but not to be confused with White Cedar - which is an Arborvitae that is native, and also not to be confused with an Eastern Redcedar which is a native Juniper. Or Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata) which is native to the western states.

While there are no native true Cedars in the US, there are many native Junipers and other Cupressaceae family members that are!

Deodar Cedar (Cedrus deodara)

With a lovely branch structure and fine-textured, airy blue-green needles, the Deodar Cedar is a heat and drought-tolerant evergreen tree that grows throughout USDA growing zones 7 to 11. Growing tall and with an elegant pyramidal silhouette with large ornamental cones that fall apart when ready to disperse their seeds.

  • Elongated Soft Blue/Gray-Green Needles 1-2 inches long
  • Needles Appearing Singly With A Triangular Cross-Section
  • Catkin-Like Male Cones
  • Upright Growing Female Cones Grow 3-6 Inches Long
  • Grows 40 - 50 Feet Tall
  • Moderate to Low Moisture Needs
  • Tall Pyramidal Form
  • Fissured Scaly Dark Gray Bark

Highly ornamental with aromatic oil that naturally deters insects and deer, Deodar Cedars are native from Tibet to Afghanistan.


Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica)

Atlas Cedars have almost a spiny texture but their short blue-green needles form around the stems that are held upright along the entire stem. The architectural branching really stands out in the landscape! Large and typically higher altitude trees that are native to the Atlas Mountains of Algeria and Morocco, the upright branches have downward drooping tips until they mature.

  • Atlas Cedar Growing Zones 6 to 8
  • Mature Height 40 - 60 Feet Tall
  • Blue-Green 1-Inch Long Needles With A White Bloom
  • Needles Have A Triangular Cross-Section
  • Upright Male Catkins With Fall Yellow Pollen
  • Upright Female Cones With Tight Scales That Disintegrate When Mature
  • Grey Cracking Plated Bark 

Also known as the Atlantic Cedar, these disease-resistant, aromatic trees make a wonderful addition to large landscapes, either commercial or residential. Nature Hills has three forms of these great evergreens - The Blue Atlas Cedar, Weeping forms, and Horstmann Blue Atlas.

Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani)

Also known as the Lebanese Cedar, the Cedar of Lebanon is a broad-reaching evergreen that can be pyramid-shaped when grown in a dense forest. The grooved, gray-green needles grow in spirals at the end of the shoots.

  • Gray-Green Highly Resinous Needles With A Diamond-Shaped Cross-Section
  • Mature Trees Grown In The Open Can Develop Forked Trunks
  • Pyramidal to Spreading Form
  • Upright Male & Female Cones Appear in Fall
  • Female Upright-Growing Cones Fall Apart When Mature
  • Dark Gray/Blackish Brown Plated Bark

Highly aromatic and featuring a prominent form in the landscape, these trees are well-adapted to the Mediterranean climate and mountainous environments.

Cedar by Name & Nature

Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana)

Red CedarEastern Red Cedar is a tough, widely distributed across many states natively through USDA zones 3 - 9. While accidentally called a Cedar by early colonists in Virginia, it is botanically a Juniper. They do carry the same resinous fragrance, durable rot-proof wood, and disease resistance as their namesakes!

Often seen growing along roadsides in sunny, dry, and well-drained areas. They tolerate drought, and road salt resistance, and deer do not seem to like them as much. 

The small berries that can be produced on the female plants are actually soft cones and the Cedar Waxwings and other birds absolutely love them! Eastern Red Cedars are fantastic wildlife shelters and nesting sites for a wide variety of wildlife in those open areas where they like to grow.

They are not only good for native plantings but also work well in poor soils where it can be hot and dry in urban areas too. In the fall and winter months, the needle color changes from a green or silvery green to a purplish-plum color which can be an interesting attribute as well.

Eastern Red Cedar are upright growing and quite variable in size but can get 40 - 50 feet and 12 or 18 feet wide. Hard-working for open windy areas that take the heat and drier soils, and block wind, they create fast-growing privacy and screening!

Japanese Cedar

Japanese CedarCompact and fluffy, the Japanese Cedar, like the Chapel View™ Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica 'PIICJ-I') are bushy trees with the same flaking, red bark and fantastic scent that earned them the Cedar name. Growing to only 10 feet or so tall and 6 - 8 feet wide, and thriving throughout the warmer growing zones of 6 - 9.

A gorgeously soft and natural-looking evergreen with deep dark-green needles featuring a bluish cast, they hold that color all winter long unlike some other members of the species. The bulky pyramidal form is dense and fills in quickly with the plants planted next to it. They are the perfect way to screen out unsightly views and nosey neighbors.

The Dwarf Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica 'Globosa Nana') is a smaller soft green, irregular-shaped, mounding, and spreading shrub that can be used sheared for more formal use or allowed to grow naturally and used as a foundation plant.

White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis)

North Pole® ArborvitaeWhite Cedar are evergreens in the Cypress family. The green clusters of male catkins pollinate small clusters of papery tiny female cones. The green branches are flat sprays of scale-like soft needles. The reddish bark is shaggy and furrowed.

Northern and Eastern White Cedar (Thuja) and Arborvitae which means “tree of life”. Their fluffy, soft growth and lush, vivid green color stand out in the landscape as lush year-round privacy. Thuja occidentalis is also commonly known as the American Arborvitae, White Cedars or Eastern White Cedar. This species is a bit hardier than the Western Arborvitae and can be used across a very wide range in many climates and they are very adaptable. They come in many forms and colors!

Their bark, scent, and durability earned many in the Arborvitae family the name Cedar, Eastern White Cedar, and Northern White Cedar. These fantastic trees and shrubs carry all the deer-resistant, pest-resistant, and dense privacy, scent, and bark as a true Cedar!

Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata)

Western Arborvitae is a classic upright screening plant that is fast-growing and excellent in groups. Sometimes also called Western Red Cedar. Once they get a few feet tall, the deer seem to leave them alone. These and other Western Arborvitae can also be sheared into a more formal hedge. Thuja can grow as either shrubs or tall trees.

Incense Cedar Trees (Calocedrus decurrens)

The Incense Cedar, also known as the California Incense Cedar, are large 100+ foot tall native trees that form a conical crown that can have single to multiple trunks. The orange-brown bark matures gray with flattened sprays of scale-like leaves like those of Arborvitae.

Caring For Cedar Trees

Caring for Cedar Trees InfographicCedar Trees grow best in full sun, but many varieties will tolerate some shade, especially afternoon shade when grown in warmer climates. Provide for at least 5 - 6 hours of sun.

Cedars are extremely drought and heat-tolerant after establishment! These hardy trees and shrubs adapt to any soil as long as there is no standing water. That includes sandy and rocky soils.

Cedar tolerate pollution and salt well, and are resinous enough to deter deer, rabbits, and insects, as well as being fragrant and disease-resistant!

Mulching your plants with a couple of inches of pine straw or bark is great for protecting the roots, retaining moisture, and keeping the lower branches from touching the soil directly. The added benefit of using pine straw mulch is that it will add some acidity to your soil.

Aromatic, Easy-to-Grow, Hardy & Widely Varied

Cedar has a rich history as landscaping ornamentals, is beneficial to wildlife and songbirds, and has a broad range of uses as ceremonial, edible, and medicinal plants!

Long-lived and wonderfully easy to grow, Cedar are rugged plants that easily handle the Mediterranean to average landscape conditions and high altitudes, rocky poor soil, and are incredibly long-lived! Find how easy it is to grow and identify these unique Evergreens around your area with the help of Nature Hills Nursery!

Check out next time when we discuss identifying Spruce Trees!

Happy Planting!

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