More easily recognized by the names "white cedar" or "eastern arborvitae," Thuja occidentalis is an evergreen conifer tree that grows 30 to 60 feet tall and 10 to 15 feet wide. The scale-like needles are yellow-green and blush bronze in winter's cold temperatures. Native to a vast expanse of eastern North America, it survives where winter low temperatures range from minus 50 to plus 10 degrees F, which corresponds to USDA hardiness zones 2 through 7. They grow in sunny locations in a moist, fertile, well-draining soil.
The wood of eastern arborvitae is naturally resistant to decay and is widely used in applications where wood comes in contact with soil and moisture. Common uses include fence posts, shingles, paneling and boats, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Logs are used for log cabin construction as well as in making mixed pulp products and particle board.
Many creatures depend on the eastern arborvitae for food or shelter in the wild. Carpenter ants often live on and feed on the tree's heartwood and in turn are eaten by woodpeckers. Sparrows, warblers, wrens and thrashes typically nest in the dense branches and foliage of the trees, too. The foliage is a valuable food in winter for deer, porcupines, hares and moose, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
From a horticultural standpoint, the eastern arborvitae provides many uses in a garden setting. It can be planted as a single specimen plant or in rows to screen unpleasant views or block wind. Tidy-looking hedges are also made by the plants. Horticulturists have selected various mutations and given them cultivar names. There are types that are dwarf in habit and well-suited to rock gardens or foundation bed plantings. Others bear foliage that is variegated or more golden in color. Names of some cultivars used in gardens across the U.S. include Techny, Holmstrup, Little Gem, Golden Globe, Hetz Midget, Rheingold, Smaragd and Wansdyke Silver.