Trees of the genera Juniperus, Thuja, Calocedrus and Chamaecyparis comprise the cedar family in North America, a group of evergreen coniferous trees that possess foliage that resembles overlapping scales. Cedars, as a rule, have fragrant pleasant smelling wood and many are valued as ornamental species. Some are present in a large portion of the United States, while others have much smaller distributions.
Of all the trees considered cedars in America, the largest is the Western redcedar, which can grow to be a towering 200 feet tall. Another giant species is the Port-Orford cedar, a tree that ranges between 150 and 180 feet tall in the largest specimens. The incense cedar can grow to 150 feet, while the Eastern redcedar averages between 30 and 50 high. Many types of cedars are no larger than shrubs in most instances, such as the common juniper.
According to the "National Audubon Field Guide to Trees," the Eastern redcedar grows native to some 37 states, ranging from Maine to Northern Florida and westward into the Great Plains. The common juniper is a member of the cedar family that grows from coast to coast, existing from Alaska through Canada to the Atlantic Ocean. Other cedars have a much smaller geographic range and grow only in specific parts of the nation, such as Alaska cedar, a species of the coastal parts of the Pacific Northwest north into Southwestern Alaska.
The bark of many types of cedars is fibrous and you can peel it off in long narrowed strips. Cedar trees have foliage that varies in its shades of green. For instance, the Utah juniper is yellow-green while Atlantic white cedar has a blue-green appearance. The cones of the cedars have great diversity. Those of the incense cedar are woody, oblong, brown and open wide when ripe. Those of many of the junipers, as well as Eastern redcedar, are small, fleshy and look like berries.
As ornamental species, the cedars are very useful since they fulfill a number of requirements. Cedars, such as common juniper, tolerate dry poor soil and can grow despite the presence of windy weather as long as you put them in full sun. The pH levels of the soil matters little to the cedars, which are quite adaptable and easy to transplant. You can use cedars as specimen plants to focus attention to a specific part of your landscape. You can also use cedars to form hedges, screens and windbreaks by planting them close to each other. You often see cedars planted in the median to divide interstate highways. The low-growing cedars make solid foundation plants that can grow in soil other plants will not survive in, including close to a building.
Many kinds of cedar cultivars exist that you can investigate for use on your property. The Eastern redcedar has such types as the Canaerti, with its compact branches and dark green foliage, or the Burkii, a hybrid with blue-green foliage that grows to 20 feet high. While a typical Atlantic white cedar grows 50 feet tall, cultivars such as Ericoides and Little Jamie barely reach 6 feet in height. Common juniper even has a cultivar that grows 5 feet high but just 10 inches wide, called Pencil Point.