The Eastern Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis), also called tree of life or Northern white cedar, is a small- to medium-height (30-45 ft) tree with small, scale-like leaves covering flat fan-like branches spread upward and sideways. The fruit of the tree is a seed cone with two pairs of scales (brown when mature). Cones are upright on twigs and persist up to one year. Wood is used for small poles, fence posts, and cedar-strip canoes. Although the dry wood is resistant to decay, the living trees are subject to heart-rot; consequently, may trees have hollow trunks. The tree, native to North America, was brought to France in 1534 by French explorers who had learned from indigenous people along the St. Lawrence River that a boiled concoction made from its greenery cured scurvy. It was thus named “l’arbor de vie” by the King Francis I and planted in medicinal plant gardens all over Europe. Thuja is the Greek name for a type of Juniper (Juniperus). The specific epithet means “from the Western world”. The Arborvitae is believed to be one of the first North American trees planted in Europe. The Fastigitate cultivar was originally produced in Germany in 1865. It is characterized by a more columnar, narrow, conical to pyramidal habit.
Common name: Eastern Arborvitae, American arborvitae; Tree of Life, White Cedar
Scientific Name (order and family): Thuja occidentalis L. (Cupressaceae, Cupressales)
Species Native Origin: Eastern North America
Habit: Narrowly conical – pyramidal shaped small to medium sized tree, 30 – 45’ tall. Trunk sometimes divided with multiple trunks; crown narrow, tapered Rocky mountain slopes often on limestone and in swamps. prefers highly acid to slightly alkaline soil pH; Zone 3 – 7.
Trunk/Stem: Bark grayish brown to reddish brown.
Leaves: Evergreen leaves scale-like and very small, glossy yellowish green above and pale with NO white makers beneath. Leaves alternate, compressed, flat; borne on flattened aromatic sprays on flat shoots. Flat horizontal fans of foliage on tree. Leaves emit a tansy like order on wounding
Flowers: Monoecious, terminal solitary. Male flowers red, females yellow-brown in separate cluster at the ends of the shoots on the same plant in spring.
Fruits and seeds: Fruit an oblong upright cone, 3/8” long, yellow green ripening to brown with 8 – 10 scales borne at shoot tips; scales with a mucronate apex (differs from T. orientalis which has a distinct spine-like hook on the back of each cones scale near the apex). Cones erect when young but brown and pendent when mature at the end of the first summer.