Thuja occidentalis L.

northern white-cedar

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New England Distribution

Adapted from BONAP data

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North America Distribution

Adapted from BONAP data

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Facts About

Northern white-cedar is widespread in moist and wet forests of the north, but becoming increasingly rare and local in Connecticut and Massachusetts (where it is considered vulnerable to extinction). It is one of New England's longest-lived trees, lasting 200-300 years, hence its common name arbor-vitae (tree of life). Because the wood is resinous and resists decay, northern white cedar is a popular choice for constructing log cabins and manufacturing shingles. The wood is very light and insulates well. Its fragrant foliage and pyramidal growth form (in open habitats) make it much sought-after for gardens, and many cultivars exist. The aromatic sap is rich in vitamin C. Scientists study the rings of these exceptionally long-lived trees to understand year-to-year changes in past climates.

Habitat

Cliffs, balds, or ledges, fens, forests, ridges or ledges, shores of rivers or lakes, swamps, woodlands

Characteristics

Habitat
  • terrestrial
  • wetlands
New England state
  • Connecticut
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
Growth form
the plant is a tree
Leaf form
the leaves are scale-like
Leaf cross-section
the needle-like leaves are flattened (can't be rolled between the fingers)
Leaf arrangement
there are two needle-like leaves per node
Seed cone form
the seed cone is longer than wide, with woody scales attached at the base
Leaf clustering
the needle-like leaves are single, with two per node
Seed cone shape
the seed cone is ellipsoid (oval, tapering to rounded ends)
Leaves overlapping
the needle-like leaves are tightly overlapping so that they hide the twig surface
Show All Characteristics
  • Fruits or seeds
    Seed cone base
    NA
    Seed cone bracts
    NA
    Seed cone form
    the seed cone is longer than wide, with woody scales attached at the base
    Seed cone scales
    NA
    Seed cone shape
    the seed cone is ellipsoid (oval, tapering to rounded ends)
    Seed cone symmetry
    the seed cone is symmetrical
    Seed cone umbo position
    there is no raised portion on the seed cone scale
    Seed cone umbo spine
    NA
    Seed wings
    the seeds have wing-like projections
  • Growth form
    Growth form
    the plant is a tree
  • Leaves
    Leaf arrangement
    there are two needle-like leaves per node
    Leaf base
    NA
    Leaf clustering
    the needle-like leaves are single, with two per node
    Leaf cross-section
    the needle-like leaves are flattened (can't be rolled between the fingers)
    Leaf duration
    the needle-like leaves remain green all winter
    Leaf form
    the leaves are scale-like
    Leaf glands
    the needle-like leaves have glands on the underside
    Leaf stalks
    the needle-like leaves do not have a leaf stalk
    Leaf types
    there are two distinct types of needle-like leaves on the twig
    Leaves overlapping
    the needle-like leaves are tightly overlapping so that they hide the twig surface
  • Place
    Habitat
    • terrestrial
    • wetlands
    New England state
    • Connecticut
    • Maine
    • Massachusetts
    • New Hampshire
    • Rhode Island
    • Vermont
    Specific habitat
    • cliffs, balds, or ledges
    • fens
    • forests
    • ridges or ledges
    • shores of rivers or lakes
    • swamps
    • woodlands
  • Stem, shoot, branch
    Bark resin blisters
    there are no resin blisters on the bark
    Branchlet thickness
    1–2 mm
    Leaves on shoots
    the needle-like leaves do not grow in tight clusters on a short, knob-like shoot
    Twig bloom
    there is no bloom on the twig
    Twig hair type
    the twigs have few or no hairs on them
    Twig hairs
    the twig does not have hairs

Wetland Status

Usually occurs in wetlands, but occasionally in non-wetlands. (Wetland indicator code: FACW)

New England Distribution and Conservation Status

Distribution

Connecticut
present
Maine
present
Massachusetts
present
New Hampshire
present
Rhode Island
present
Vermont
present

Conservation Status

Exact status definitions can vary from state to state. For details, please check with your state.

Connecticut
rare (S-rank: S2), threatened (code: T)
Maine
widespread (S-rank: S5)
Massachusetts
extremely rare (S-rank: S1), endangered (code: E)

Native to North America?

Yes and no (some introduced)

Family

Cupressaceae

Genus

Thuja

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Information from Dichotomous Key of Flora Novae Angliae

1.  Thuja occidentalis L. N

northern white-cedar. CT, MA, ME, NH, RI, VT; throughout most of northern New England, but becoming rare and local to the south. Shorelines, fens, swamps, and cliffs, also an occasional component of upland forests to the north.