An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide – maryholland505@gmail.com

Northern White-cedar

Northern White-cedars (Thuja occidentalis), also known as American Arborvitae, are often found in coniferous swamps and along lake shores. These conifers have a number of distinctive attributes: they are long lived, their bark is nearly fireproof, and their wood is very tough and can repel both the elements as well as insect pests.  

Northern White-cedars have a life expectancy of 200 to 300 years (hence, one of its common names – “tree of life” or Arborvitae), but there are records of them exceeding 1,000 years. And cedar wood can withstand a great deal of stress.  According to botanist and author Donald Peattie, “…a mere shaving from a carpenter’s plane may be laid on an anvil, folded, and struck repeatedly with a hammer, yet not break.” 

It did not take humans long to appreciate the qualities of this wood.  Its toughness, along with its being the lightest wood in the Northeast, made it ideal for the canoe frames of Native Americans. Lumber camps of the North Woods had cedar shingles because the wood resists decay practically forever. Today its durability lends itself to a number of outdoor uses, including fences, decks, boats and furniture.

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7 responses

  1. I have a lazy neighbor who never trims his trees – not even the “volunteers” growing along the foundation. The previous owners planted three arborvitae on one edge of the privacy fence. How wide will the get?

    November 27, 2020 at 10:15 am

    • They can get as wide as 25 feet!

      November 28, 2020 at 6:27 pm

      • Oh, NO! That would reach my very house!

        December 2, 2020 at 6:46 pm

  2. On Isle au Haut one of the few tree species (other than spruce) that thrives is the northern white cedar. All my garden fence posts are locally harvested, and they last a really long time. One interesting thing is that cedars grow all along our lake, and overhang the water. In the winter, when the deer can walk on the ice, they trim the overhanging cedar boughs to exactly the height of their browsing reach. When I swim along the shore in the summer, it looks as if the cedars have all been carefully pruned, almost like topiary.

    November 27, 2020 at 12:20 pm

  3. Alice

    What beautiful bark. Nice close-up. I hope you had a wonderful ‘Be Thankful Day.’ Mary.

    November 27, 2020 at 12:20 pm

    • Thank you, Alice. I did, and hope you did as well!

      November 28, 2020 at 6:28 pm

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