Atlantic white cedar tree

Atlantic White Cedar

Color/Appearance: Heartwood is a light reddish brown. Narrow sapwood is pale yellow-brown to almost white and is clearly demarcated from the heartwood.

Grain/Texture: Grain is straight, with a fine uniform texture.

Endgrain: Resin canals absent; earlywood to latewood transition gradual, color contrast medium; tracheid diameter small-medium; zonate parenchyma.

Rot Resistance: Reported to be durable to very durable regarding decay resistance.

Workability: Easy to work with both hand and machine tools. Holds paint well. Stains, glues, and finishes well.

Odor: Atlantic White Cedar has a characteristic cedar-like scent.

Allergies/Toxicity: Although severe reactions are quite uncommon, Atlantic White Cedar has been reported to cause skin irritation. See the articles Wood Allergies and Toxicity and Wood Dust Safety for more information.

Pricing/Availability: Due to the limited growing range and relatively small tree size, Atlantic White Cedar is more expensive than most other conifers in the eastern United States. Expect prices to be in the medium to high range for a domestic softwood.

Sustainability: This wood species is not listed in the CITES Appendices, and is reported by the IUCN as being a species of least concern.

Common Uses: Boatbuilding, carving, siding, shingles, and construction lumber.

Comments: Atlantic White Cedar has excellent stability and decay resistance, but isn’t nearly as hard or strong as its west coast counterpart, Port Orford Cedar. Atlantic White Cedar is also sometimes referred to as Southern White Cedar to differentiate it from Northern White Cedar of the Thuja genus.

Related Species:

  • Alaskan Yellow Cedar (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis)
  • Port Orford Cedar (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana)

  • Top Ten Softest Woods


Atlantic White Cedar (sanded)

Atlantic White Cedar (sealed)

Atlantic White Cedar (endgrain)

Atlantic White Cedar (endgrain 10x)

White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis)


Latin: Thuja occidentalis

Zones: 3-7

Other common names: northern white-cedar, American arborvitae, arborvitae, eastern white-cedar, white-cedar, swamp-cedar

Mature Height/spread: Arborvitae (Tree of Life) can grow up to 40-50 ft with a spread of 10-15′. Slow to medium growth rate average 13-24″ per year in ideal conditions.

Soil / Climate: White Cedar enjoy limestone soils, moist, boggy areas. Northern White-Cedar is tolerant of acidic and alkaline soils. Generally quite adaptable and tolerant once established, full sun. Partial shade is tolerated but plants become thin, open and much less appealing. Does well in cold climates.

Notes: White Cedar is an evergreen tree with fan-like branches and scaly leaves. Conical shape, dense lumber is prized for its resistance to rot. Can be single-or multi-trunked. Has light brown or reddish-brown oblong blunt tip cones that are 3/8 -1/2″ in diamater. White cedar is commercially used for rustic fencing and posts, lumber, poles, shingles and in the construction of log cabins. Good for hedges, screens and windbreaks: place seedlings three feet apart for a tight hedge. The White Cedar can live up to 800 years old and contains a great deal of Vitamin C in it’s foliage.

Wildlife: Often browsed by deer. Cover and nesting for birds. Seeds are eaten by squirrels and birds.

Cold Stream Farm supplies White Cedar trees which are grown as bare root seedlings and transplants and sold both wholesale and retail with no minimum order.

Additional information on Thuja occidentalis can be found on the link: USDA / NRCS plants database.

White Cedar ‘Brabant’

White cedar ‘Brabant’ or thuja occidentalis ‘Brabant’ is a very popular, fast-growing hedging conifer of compact habit. Its brownish branches bear flat sprays of aromatic, almost pineapple-scented, scale-like leaves. Its foliage has a fresh, yellow-green colour that will stand out in any garden. The popularity of this evergreen hedging plant is largely due to its growth habit and soil preferences. White cedar ‘Brabant’ has a very compact growth habit and forms a dense wall almost immediately. As a bonus, it requires very little maintenance, as it does not grow very fast. Thuja occidentalis Brabant will grow 20 to 30 centimetres per year on average, which is still pretty decent, especially if we take into account the fact that both younger and older plants have a dense growth habit.

This quality makes the white cedar ‘Brabant’ a very useful alternative to other popular hedging conifers, such as the common yew or taxus baccata. Young taxus baccata plants grow faster than this white cedar cultivar, but they also have a relatively open growth habit during the first few years after they have been planted. If immediate privacy is what you are looking for, a white cedar ‘Brabant’ hedge would be a very good choice. For the fastest results, you can plant an instant white cedar ‘Brabant’ hedge in your garden. Their slow growth rate makes them easier to deal with than other evergreen conifer hedges, such as Lawson’s cypress or Leylandii hedges, and its charming foliage makes a white cedar ‘Brabant’ hedge a pleasant addition to any garden.

White Cedar ‘Brabant’ in Britain

The native range of the natural form of thuja occidentalis is the east coast of the United States and Canada. This may be somewhat confusing to anyone who speaks Latin, as the word “occidentalis” means “western” and it is in fact the closely related western red cedar or thuja plicata that can be traced back to the west coast of the same continent, as the common English name of that particular species explains. To add to the confusion, neither of these evergreen hedging conifers actually belong to the same genus as most other cedars, but are rather a member of the cypress family. This makes these species the only plants referred to as cedar that are suitable for hedging in the British climate.

The fact that the white cedar ‘Brabant’ is able to survive the British weather is the ultimate evidence of how tough and hardy this popular thuja cultivar is. It is also very versatile when it comes to planting positions and soil types, with the only real issue being caused by the fact that it is somewhat prone to drying out. This can easily be avoided by some additional watering during periods of prolonged drought. Of course, with white cedar ‘Brabant’ being a conifer, excessive watering should also be avoided, as conifers generally do not like it if their feet get wet. The dawn redwood is the only exception to this rule.

White Cedar ‘Brabant’ in Your Garden

In addition to being great for hedging, thuja ‘Brabant’ is very tough and undemanding, tolerating a wide range of positions, conditions and soil types. Although this white cedar is happy growing almost anywhere, it will benefit from being planted in a soil that is rich in organic matter and preferably slightly acidic. This means that is a good idea to enrich the soil with some organic matter or well-rotted manure, but this is not required. This easy-going plant favours a position in the full sun to partial shade. Waterlogging should definitely be avoided, as is the case with most conifers, but it is necessary to keep the saplings moist until they are established.

Maintaining White Cedar ‘Brabant’ Hedges

White cedar ‘Brabant’ can be trimmed as desired. Some people choose to plant this white cedar cultivar in their gardens as a specimen tree and keep the upkeep to its bare minimum. This will emphasise the ornamental value and the conical growth habit of the species, but those who are looking for a neat, white cedar ‘Brabant’ hedge are best off pruning the plants at least once a year. Luckily, it is quite easy to prune this attractive hedging conifer. However, it is essential to keep your white cedar ‘Brabant’ hedge in check, because it does not tolerate trimming into old wood and can therefore not be rejuvenated when it becomes overgrown.

White cedar ‘Brabant’ is one of the many white cedar cultivars that is highly in demand as a hedging plant today and it is easy to see why. Its appearance is lovely, it is exceptionally hardy and it will last well over a lifetime if you meet its – relatively limited – maintenance requirements. No wonder that it has been called “the tree of life”.

White Cedar – a Shade Tree

There is always something that makes a plant less than perfect but until I discovered the seeds of Melia azedarach were toxic to humans and other mammals and that it has become a serious environmental weed in some areas, this tree was perfect!

White Cedar (Melia azedarach) is a beautiful shade tree that is extremely drought tolerant. Oddly enough, though, the tree grows from the east coast (extending from the Victorian border right up to the top of Cape York) and the top of the Northern Territory, so its drought tolerance is a bit of a surprise.

Another surprise is that it is winter deciduous and we don’t have many winter deciduous plants native to Australia. In spring, just as the new glossy leaves emerge, the tree starts flowering and may continue to do so into summer. It’s worth planting this tree for the spring show alone. The starry lilac and white flowers appear in beautiful clusters. The flowers are also lightly fragrant, often described as chocolate-like.

Following on from the flowers are the seeds and for humans, one of the tree’s flaws as an ornamental. However, the seeds are hard, which has made them very desirable for use as beads, including rosary beads. As toxic as the seeds are and considering how widely the tree is planted, especially in parklands and as street trees, there have been only a few recorded poisonings, including dogs. The tree should not be planted where livestock can graze the seeds or leaves (leaves were implicated in 1974 as also containing the toxic compounds).

While toxic to animals, many birds are able to eat the seeds, which would have, along with human cultivation, helped the plant become the weed it has in some areas. It has become a serious problem in the Northern Territory (outside of its natural range) and Western Australia in particular but it has naturalised in all mainland states, so if you think you might be interested in planting it check that it’s not a problem where you are.

Now we can get back to its attributes. Along with considerable drought tolerance is its ability to tolerate temporary inundation. It also thrives in a wide variety of soil types (from sand through to heavy clay), is quite frost tolerant, and Grow What Where categorises it as being fire retardant.

While the flowers get most attention, the leaves are also a lovely feature of the tree. They are bipinnate – with many oval to elliptical leaflets, each from 20 to 70cm in length, that darken with age from the fresh, glossy green at emergence in spring. It really is a lovely tree to sit under, with all the leaflets dancing independently in a breeze.

The tree is defined as small to medium. But I wouldn’t pay too much attention to that. In its natural habitat it can grow to 35 metres in height, but is most often described as growing from between 6 to 12 metres in height with a canopy of 6 to 8 metres.

A little formative pruning as the tree grows will encourage it to develop its naturally rounded canopy, but other than that, it’s a pretty easy tree to maintain. It’s also responsive to pollarding. The hairy caterpillar of the White Cedar Moth, Leptocneria reducta, is its only serious nemesis, causing severe defoliation in large numbers.

Melia azedarach is a member of the Meliaceae Family, commonly called the mahogany family and while we most often refer to it as White Cedar it is also known as Persian Lilac, Umbrella Tree and Chinaberry, the latter being its common name, especially in the USA.

Propagation is by seed (no pre-treatment required) or cuttings.

A word of warning: because it produces seeds so readily, and they can be dispersed by birds, it can become a weed outside of its original habitat – especially in Western Australia and parts of the Northern Territory.

In the USA and New Zealand it is a declared weed.

Scientific Name: Thula occidentalis

How big are white cedar? Northern white cedar usually grow to be about 50 feet tall and 12-16 inches in diameter. However, they have been known to grow much larger even reaching four feet in diameter.

How long do northern white cedar live? Northern white cedar can live to be very old. There are many of these slow growing trees that have been estimated to be over 700 years old.There is one giant that I will be visiting during the adventure that is estimated to be between 1,100 and 1,400 years old! It is an amazing sight and well worth visiting.

What do their leaves look like? Their leaves are a dull yellowish green color. They are very small only about 1/4 to 1/2 inch long and they form a branch like arrangement on the branches.

What does their bark look like? When they are young they have a smooth, shinny, reddish-brown bark. When they get older the their bark turns into long, flat gray-brown strips that get larger as the tree gets larger.

Where do northern white cedar live? They are found in the northeastern United States and eastern Canada. They are often found along the edges of lakes growing out over the water. They usually grow in small, pure stands, or mixed with other trees such as white pine, yellow birch, and eastern hemlock.

What are some other cool fact about northern white cedar? The bark of a cedar tree spirals to the left when they are young and then after 75 to 125 years the bark switches and spirals to the right. Cedars prove that size is not always a good way to estimate age. One cedar was 530 years old and weighted less than one pound! You can tell how old a tree is by counting the rings found inside the tree. This tree only had two or three cells in each ring! The northern white cedar was probably the first north American tree to be grown in Europe. It was brought to Paris France in the mid 1500’s. Deer and Moose like to eat the leaves in the winter. You can often see a line about four feet up off the edge of a lake that has cedar along the edge. This line is called the browse line and is formed when deer and moose eat the lower branches.

What Is Atlantic White Cedar: Learn About Atlantic White Cedar Care

What is Atlantic white cedar? Also known as swamp cedar or post cedar, Atlantic white cedar is an impressive, spire-like evergreen tree that reaches heights of 80 to 115 feet (24-35 m.). This swamp-dwelling tree has a fascinating place in American history. Growing Atlantic white cedar isn’t difficult and, once established, this attractive tree requires very little maintenance. Read on for more Atlantic white cedar info.

Atlantic White Cedar Information

At one time, Atlantic white cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides) was found growing profusely in swampy areas and bogs of eastern North America, primarily from Long Island to Mississippi and Florida.

Atlantic white cedar was widely used by early settlers, and the light, close-grained wood was valuable for ship building. The wood was also used for cabins, fence posts, piers, shingles, furniture, buckets, barrels, and even duck decoys and organ pipes.

Not surprisingly, great stands of the tree were removed and Atlantic white cedar was scarce by the nineteenth century.

As for appearance, the tiny, scale-like, bluish-green leaves cover graceful, drooping twigs, and the thin, scaly bark is light reddish brown, turning ashy gray as the tree matures. The short, horizontal branches of Atlantic white cedar give the tree a narrow, conical shape. In fact, the tops of the trees often intertwine, making them difficult to cut down.

How to Grow Atlantic White Cedar

Growing Atlantic white cedar isn’t difficult, but finding young trees may prove challenging. You’ll most likely need to look at specialty nurseries. If you don’t need a 100-foot tree, you may find dwarf varieties that top out at 4 to 5 feet. (1.5 m.).

If you have seeds, you can plant the tree outdoors in autumn, or start them in a cold frame or unheated greenhouse. If you want to plant seeds indoors, stratify them first.

Growing Atlantic white cedar is suitable in USDA plant hardiness zones 3 through 8. A swampy or boggy area isn’t a requirement, but the tree will thrive in a water garden or damp area of your landscape. Full sunlight and rich, acidic soil is best.

Atlantic White Cedar Care

Atlantic white cedar has high water requirements, so never allow the soil to dry out completely between waterings.

Otherwise, this hardy tree is disease and pest resistant, and Atlantic white cedar care is minimal. No pruning or fertilization is required.

Chamaecyparis thyoides

(Linnaeus) Britton, Sterns, et Poggenburg 1888

Common names

Atlantic white-cedar, southern white-cedar (Michener 1993), white cypress (Dallimore et al. 1967), swamp cedar.

Taxonomic notes

Syn: Cupressus thyoides Linnaeus 1753; Thuja sphaeroidea Spreng.; Chamaecyparis sphaeroidea (Spreng.) Spach.

One subspecies, Chamaecyparis thyoides subsp. henryae (Li H.L.) E. Murray, sometimes treated as a separate species Ch. henryae Li H.L.; syn. Ch. thyoides var. henryae (Li H.L.) Little. Li (1962) segregated the disjunct Gulf Coast populations in Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi as Ch. henryae based on smoother bark, less flattened branchlets, lighter yellowish green foliage, steeper angle of leaf appression to the stem, more prominently keeled but less glandular leaves, and slightly larger cones, seeds, and seed wings. These features contrasted with phenotypes found in the ‘northern and mid-Atlantic’ populations, and Li proposed a relationship to Cupressus nootkatensis (which at the time was generally assigned to Chamaecyparis) rather than to Ch. thyoides. “Preliminary comparison of herbarium material from the Southeast (including populations in Georgia and Florida) leads to retention of Ch. thyoides as a subtly variable complex with the imperfectly differentiated Ch. henryae at one end of the range” (Michener 1993); although close to typical Ch. thyoides, it is ecologically adapted to greatly different climatic conditions, and field and genetic research is required before the taxon can be dismissed or reduced in status.

Trees to 20 m tall and 80 cm dbh. “Bark dark brownish red, less than 3 cm thick, irregularly furrowed and ridged. Branchlet sprays fan-shaped. Leaves of branchlets to 2 mm, apex acute to acuminate, bases of facial leaves often overlapped by apices of subtending facial leaves; glands usually present, circular. Pollen cones 2-4 mm, dark brown; pollen sacs yellow” (Michener 1993). Seed cones maturing and opening the first year, commonly somewhat irregular or asymmetrical, 4-9 mm broad, glaucous, bluish purple to reddish brown, not notably resinous; scales 6-8(10), each scale depressed and minutely mucronate, the apical pair of scales fused. Seeds 1-2 per scale, 2-3 mm, wing narrower than body (Michener 1993, M.P. Frankis pers. obs. 1999.02.03).

In addition to the foliage differences noted above, subsp. henryae differs from the type in having more open growth with less congested branchlets; it also can potentially become a larger tree (c.f. Big Tree) (M.P. Frankis pers. obs. 1999.02.03).

Distribution and Ecology

Distribution data from USGS (1999). Subsp. thyoides shown in red, subsp. henryi in purple. Points plotted as tree icons represent isolated or approximate locations.

Big tree

Subsp. henryae:height 27 m, DBH 150 cm, crown spread 13 m, located in Brewton, Alabama (American Forests 1996).


Ages exceeding 1000 years are cited, without supporting data (Burns and Honkala 1990).




American Forests 1996. The 1996-1997 National Register of Big Trees. Washington, DC: American Forests.

This page co-edited with M.P. Frankis, 1999.02.

See also

Elwes and Henry 1906-1913 at the Biodiversity Heritage Library (as Cupressus thyoides). This series of volumes, privately printed, provides some of the most engaging descriptions of conifers ever published. Although they only treat species cultivated in the U.K. and Ireland, and the taxonomy is a bit dated, still these accounts are thorough, treating such topics as species description, range, varieties, exceptionally old or tall specimens, remarkable trees, and cultivation. Despite being over a century old, they are generally accurate, and are illustrated with some remarkable photographs and lithographs.

Farjon (2005).

Laderman, Aimlee D. 1989. The ecology of Atlantic white cedar wetlands: a community profile. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biological Report 85(7.21). 114 pp.

Hopton, H.M. and N. Pederson. 2005. Climate sensitivity of Atlantic white-cedar at its northern range limit. Atlantic White Cedar: Ecology, Restoration and Management, Proceedings of the Arlington Echo Symposium. June 2-4 2003. Millersville, MD. USDA For. Ser. Gen. Tech. Rep.

Zimmerman, George. Atlantic White-Cedar Initiative., accessed 2019.03.01. This website provides news and announcements, an extensive bibliography, and much additional information on the species.

Chamaecyparis thyoides (L.) B.S.P.

  • State Rank: S2
  • Global Rank: G4
  • State Status: Special Concern

Habitat: Swamps.

Range: Mississippi and southern Florida, north to southern Maine and west to southeastern New York.

Aids to Identification: Atlantic white cedar is an evergreen tree, up to 25 m high, with small, scale-like leaves and characteristic cedar fragrance. Atlantic white cedar can be distinguished from northern white cedar, which is common and widespread in Maine, because the branchlets bearing the leaves are rounded, not flattened; by the bluish-green color of the foliage (as opposed to the yellowish-green of northern white cedar); and by the fruits which are small and spherical rather than elongate.

Ecological characteristics: Grows in swamps, bogs, and fens chiefly on the coastal plains. In a typical Atlantic white cedar swamp, Atlantic white cedar forms a dense canopy that allows little light penetration and limits understory growth. Since Atlantic white cedar seedlings are relatively intolerant of shade, some forms of disturbance may be required to regenerate Atlantic white cedar.

Phenology: Monoecious, but staminate and pistillate flowers are produced on separate shoots. Flowers in late spring and fruits in mid-autumn.

Family: Cupressaceae

Synonyms: Cupressus thyoides L.

Known Distribution in Maine: This rare plant has been documented from a total of 13 town(s) in the following county(ies): Cumberland, Knox, Oxford, Waldo, York.

Reason(s) for rarity: At northern limit of range; also habitat loss or repeated logging.

Conservation considerations: In the few large occurrences in Maine (i.e. more than ten acres of Chamaecyparis-dominated wetland), the species has regenerated well after previous harvests. Small populations would be less likely to regenerate. Conservation might, however, best be addressed to the overall community (Atlantic White Cedar Swamp, for example) as an ecological unit, allowing natural processes to dominate. Managers first need to consider whether it is the individual trees or the integrated forest community that is of interest.

Northern white cedar (left), Atlantic White Cedar (center), and Eastern Redcedar (Juniperus virginiana, right)

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