Information on a Northern White Cedar


Northern white cedar is a coniferous evergreen. Its scientific name is Thuja occidentalis. It is also known as Arborvitae, which means "Tree of life." Northern white cedar is native to North America and is relatively common. Its tight, green foliage makes it an excellent choice for landscape applications and the tree can be pruned to control its growth and shape.


The leaves of the northern white cedar are scale-like, and grow in thin, flattened, branching blades, each less than 2 inches long. The leaves are green and remain on the tree throughout the year. The plant is very fragrant with a distinctive, resinous aroma. The flowers are inconspicuous and produce little, oblong cones, about 1/2 inch long, that hold tiny, winged seeds that are scattered by the wind. The bark is reddish-brown and peels from the tree in long, flat, thready strips. The base of the tree can become quite large in older specimens.

Growth Habits

These trees are slow-growing, seldom adding more than 1 foot of new growth in a year. The tiny yellow flowers bloom in the spring. The tree frequently grows in thickets, particularly in swampy areas, where the plant thrives. Northern white cedar grows well from hardiness zone 7 in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States to well into the eastern half of Canada.


Northern white cedar is a very vertical tree. It can grow to 40 feet tall and spreads up to 12 feet wide. The plant is very compact and dense, with a central leader trunk and radiating branches. The crown is narrowly pyramidal and dense with a fine texture.


These trees grow best in full sun or partial shade. Soil conditions can vary, but northern white cedar appreciates wet environments and can withstand wet roots for extended periods. In fact, they are commonly found in swampy and waterlogged soils. They will tolerate a certain amount of drought and are moderately tolerant of salt exposure in the soil.


Northern white cedar can be used in landscaping, as a hedge or screen planting. Specimen plants can also be featured in the landscape and can be planted relatively close to buildings, due to the narrow, vertical nature of the tree. Some cultivars can be pruned to keep them small and can even be kept on large pots. Northern white cedar has also been used in bonsai. The wood is light, soft and resistant to rot. It is frequently used in fencing.

Keywords: northern white cedar, Arborvitae, white cedar tree

About this Author

Located in Jacksonville, Fla, Frank Whittemore has been a writer and content strategist for over 15 years, providing corporate communications services to Fortune 500 companies. Whittemore writes on topics that stem from his fascination with nature, the environment, science, medicine and technology.