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Two Tall Cedars

Delaware is blessed with two species of naturally occurring trees that are commonly referred to as cedar. The name cedar is often assigned to many evergreen trees with durable, aromatic timber. What I would term “true cedars” are not natives, but exotics frequently planted as ornamentals.

Large Atlas Cedar specimen tree
Blue Atlas Cedar branching habit

They would include Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani), Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlanticum), and the Deodar Cedar (Cedrus deodora). Here are a couple of little tidbits. At one time the best example of Cedar of Lebanon was in Camden, De. on Camden-Wyoming Ave. There are some beautiful Deodar Cedars between Bridgeville Courthouse and the police station. Legend has it that the Cedars of Lebanon were extremely overharvested, to the point of extinction, to provide paneling for Solomon’s temple.

Blue Atlas Cedar needle detail
Deodar Cedar at Bridgeville

The Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana - actually a Juniper) is recognized by almost everyone who has spent much time outdoors. It springs up in nearly every dry roadside, abandoned field, or meadow with its dense, evergreen foliage. It does not like swampy, wet soil. Good examples can be seen on the Lee and Morton Meadows with their characteristic Christmas tree shape.

Ornamental horizonal Juniper- gold-tipped foliage
Eastern Red Cedar-Morton Meadow

A very fine row can be viewed on the Lee Meadow while hiking the trail from the Nature Center to the Lindale Forest. The dense, prickly foliage creates protection from the wind and weather, plus provides ideal nesting and roosting sites. In addition, the small, blue-gray waxy fruits are relished by songbirds, quail, doves, and small mammals.

Old Red Cedar weathered many storms

Red Cedar (Juniper) fruit songbirds delight

The foliage of seedlings and younger trees is quite prickly. This deters some consumers from using them as Christmas trees, but their use is traditional among the older generation and the fragrance is wonderful, filling the home with holiday scent. As the tree matures the foliage grows softer and scalier. The outer bark will peel away in long fibrous strips that can be worked into soft lining. Birds, mice, and squirrels collect this warm, soft material to line their nests. It is quite humorous to see the Eastern Gray Squirrel pulling and gathering large mouthfuls of cedar bark, then climbing up to line a tree cavity in preparation for the pup’s arrival.

Red Cedar - prickly juvenile foliage

Red Cedar - scaly mature foliage

The wood of the red cedar is valuable lumber. The purple-red heartwood is very durable in contact with the soil and used for fenceposts, bird houses, and outdoor furniture. An entire industry (Lane Co.) grew around the construction of cedar, or cedar lined, chests for the storage of blankets and woolen clothing. During the middle of the twentieth century entire closets were lined with tongue and grooved paneling as a deterrent to the woolen moth. At that time, pre-milled bundles of red cedar lumber could be purchased at the lumberyard. Red Cedar lumber is sold under several trade names, eastern red cedar, aromatic red cedar, and Tennessee red cedar to name a few. The aromatic wood weighs an average of 31 lbs. per cubic foot.

Collection of Red Cedar lined treasure boxes

Typically, the red cedar purchased today is usually Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata).

I recommend this wood for the construction of birdhouses and feeders (see previous post for details) because it is rot resistant, straight-grained, soft, easily worked, and takes paint or stain beautifully. This wood is used extensively near the coast for exterior trim work, siding, and shingles.

The Atlantic White Cedar (Chamaecypris thyroides) is the other tall, naturally occurring cedar in the Nature Preserve. In stark contrast to the red cedar, the Atlantic white cedar grows in the swamps, wet stream sides, or bogs. Formerly extensively used in ship construction the trees were harvested to the point they became very scarce. Although mature trees can be 150 years old, they may live to be 500 years in age (Trees of Delaware, by Wm. S. Taber). In the late 19th and early 20th century, Milford had as many as six shipyards. These were located along the shores of the Mispillion River as near to the source of good timber as water depth would permit.

Atlantic White Cedar-at Abbott's Pond Swamp

Having said all that, we are very fortunate to have viable remnants of that forest on the Nature Preserve lands. The best stands can be seen around Abbott’s Pond. If you are able, hike the trail from the Nature Center through the Morton Meadow to Lindale Woods, keeping to the trail that continues along the shoreline through Lindale Woods. Numerous fine white cedars can be seen along the edge of the pond. Continue farther to the boardwalk on the Jeanette Isaacs tract to the observation platform in the swamp. An especially fine group of mature white cedars is located just before the boardwalk to the platform. It is thrilling to stand at the base of these fine trees. If you are not physically able to make that hike, some very nice white cedars can be seen on the small island across from the spillway on Abbott’s Pond Road. It is not even necessary to exit the vehicle.

The Atlantic White Cedar has soft scaly foliage that is not flattened into fan-like sprays. The fruit are small, hard, brown cone-lets (see photos). The wood is light brown, soft, somewhat fragrant, and extremely rot resistant. It is used in shipbuilding, siding, and shingle production. The wood has an average weight of 21 lbs. per cubic foot, our lightest native species.

Atlantic White Cedar - soft foliage and fruit detail

Flattened, fan-like foliage of the Northern White Cedar

The house where I grew up was shingled with white cedar from Abbott’s Pond. The landowner directly across from the Lindale Tract was a farmer and good friend of our family, Wm. Watson. The Watson family still owns the property today. My father purchased a few mature trees from Mr. Watson. After the trees were felled using a hand crosscut saw (read previous article “Logging with Mules), they were extricated from the swamp by dragging them out with our Oliver Tractor and a long steel cable, the tractor remaining on firm, high ground.

Unfortunately, Dad overlooked the large nest of yellow-jacket wasps hidden below ground. Suddenly Dad yelled to Ken and David, “Get into the pickup and shut the windows” as they witnessed the comical sight of my father running through the forest, peeling off clothing, and swatting the fiery little hornets as he ran (more about hornets in a later post). Sadly, I was not along at the time.

Dad's Oliver-for skidding white cedar logs-lookout for yellow jacket wasps

The white cedars were trucked to our sawmill. Dad had both a circular Knight sawmill for cutting boards and beams plus a shingle cutting mill. The logs were cut to 16-inch lengths, milled into roofing shingles, and installed on our house.

Another ornamental cedar that I love is the Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica). It is a very important timber tree in Japan and widely planted in the U.S. as an ornamental.

Japanese Cedar specimen tree

We are just on the limit of its northern range as far as cold tolerance is concerned. If the weather gets down to single digits or below, and the wind blows, they can suffer serious branch damage, or death because of the cold. They fare much better in the warmer environment of the city, surrounded by paved streets and windbreak of buildings. The foliage is soft, somewhat cord-like and pendulous often turning a bronze color in cold weather.

Japanese Cedar - winter, bronze tinted foliage

(C-18) Japanese Cedar - needles and fruit detail

A fine, lawn specimen can be seen locally at the intersection of Abbott’s Pond Road and Griffith’s Lake Road.

So, get outside and enjoy your Nature Center Lands. There are several hundred

acres under protection for you to enjoy. Happy Hiking.

Photos by the author.

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