Friday, February 03, 2012

Tree Silhouettes: Eastern Redcedar

Eastern redcedar, Juniperus virginiana, is hated by some and loved by others.  As the only native evergreen on the prairie, it has a certain status to it, but its tendency to seed rampantly and overgrow pastures rapidly leads to its demonization by many.

For winter birds, it is extraordinary shelter in a landscape that can be very open and exposed.

For homeowners, it's a tenaciously hardy, evergreen tree that comes in a plethora of varieties/cultivars of all shapes and sizes, ranging from low and horizontal to tall and columnar. 

Despite the horticultural variety available, I (not surprisingly) like the native form the best.  Most of us are used to seeing it when it's quite young as in the photo above, looking like a rather rangy, somewhat weedy, Christmas tree, but that's far from my favorite stage.

My favorite stage is when Eastern redcedars get old.  It is one of those trees that truly develops character and a commanding presence, despite it's moderate size.  I'm looking for more photos showing positive uses and characteristics to share, especially of older redcedars, but this specimen irresistibly draws my eye every time I drive by it.   On the corner of a residential street and the main drag through town, it's even handsomer from the other side.  However, to get a good photo from the east, I'll have to get up early and interrupt my morning routine.  The dogs and I would absolutely hate that!

One other series of redcedars caught my eye as I was driving around the other evening:  these huge green gumdrops lining the front of the cemetery are certainly well groomed, but my question is...why?  Looking to the row of redcedars at the back of the cemetery, you can see what their natural shape should be.  The truly sad part is that these trees will have to be pruned for the rest of their lives...once the pruning stops, they will probably have to be cut down.   In my mind, this is make-work for someone, roughly akin to recreational mowing.  A waste of time and energy and (dare I say it?) ultimately extremely ugly.  Sometimes the human need for control amazes me.


greggo said...

Across the street from my residence diagonally was a very large Red Cedar very similar to the one you had pictured. About 6 weeks ago it was cut down, as the church property was being re-landscaped. A large mature American Elm and the Red Cedar were removed and replaced with very small Red Oaks. Members of the church were hauling off the debris and I asked if I could have the "stump"? Well needless to say I have a 24" diameter tree in my driveway. It was a shame they removed it but I will use the wood for something good I suppose. Nice post and relevant. g.

I think most Kansans feel they are ugly and useless. I've always loved the old cedar tress as they mature and become flat topped. Very few get past the multiple ice storms to reach that stage, however.

Gaia Gardener: said...

I'm so sorry to hear that they removed the old elm and red cedar - it seems somehow ironic that those are the same 2 species I chose to highlight first. Why take out 2 mature trees (I'm presuming healthy and beautiful) and replace them with baby trees that will take decades to reach any degree of size?

Meanwhile, I'm glad you ended up with the trunk and I hope that you find a good place for it. Sounds like a blog post to me!

dejavaboom said...

I, too, love the cedars but they seem to be getting out of control on my place--now less than 15 ft between the little ones, some are already over 6 ft tall...

Any recommendations of what to do with them? I thought of posting on Craig's or somewhere to encourage people to come out and dig them up, but the big ones require a tree spade and leave craters I can't tolerate.

It just seems wrong to slaughter them all. I am going to transplant 30 or so for a wind break, but that's about the end of my ambition (and available time).

I really enjoy reading your blog--can't believe I've fallen so far behind again.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Hi dejava! Thanks for your kind comment. I always enjoy reading your blog, too - you've got such a busy, active life, and many times your posts stir up great memories from when our kids were little.

As far as cedars go, the classic way to get rid of them (which works best when they are small) is to burn your grassland periodically. There are classes given each spring on doing this safely, which I would highly recommend taking if you decide to go this route.

Otherwise the best thing to do is simply to cut them down. Red cedar is one of the few prairie trees that won't regenerate from the roots, so as long as you cut about at soil line, you'll kill the tree. Maybe you could even harness some of the kids' energy (the older ones), give them each a set of pruners and all go find as many baby cedars as possible to cut!

Obviously, you'll have to use a saw on the bigger cedars - but it's still probably easier than killing them by burning.

Hope this helps!

(And I wouldn't be too bothered by concerns over killing the cedars. They will continue to reseed and you'll constantly have new ones coming up. If you don't control them, you'll have a cedar scrubland before you know it. You're keeping some around for a hedge, which will give the wildlife winter shelter and food.)