The cedar tree is known for its rich symbolism and cultural significance. It is also an important commercial-grade tree because of the many industries that it supplies with wood materials thanks to its known sturdiness and longevity.
However, it is also mostly confused with other needled trees like its pine, spruce, and juniper cousins. Some confusions have been ingrained for a long time that they have even clustered them into a cedar brand called faux cedars.
Given these misconceptions, it is important to discuss the types of cedar trees and how they are different from each other.
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How many species of cedar are there?
There are only four species of true cedars. This means that these are the only species that belong to the genus Cedrus. True cedars are the Atlas Cedar, the Cyprian Cedar, the Cedar of Lebanon, and the Deodar Cedar. The rest are false cedars and actually belong to the cypress family.
What does cedar smell like?
If you know what freshly sharpened pencils smell like, that is the same woody fragrance that you would get from cedar trees.
This is not surprising since pencils are made mostly from cedars. But alive, forest cedars would even have a richer woody smell and hints of evergreen freshness and resinous smell from its bark. Scientifically, this is because of a compound called thujaplicin.
Cedar tree leaves
Cedars are unique for their dense needle-like leaves formed in spiral clusters along its branches. Its color ranges are from rich to deep green but a few ones have blue and silver tinges.
The color of the leaves depends on the thickness of the wax or coating it has. This natural wax retains moisture on the leaves making cedars adaptive and tolerant to dry soils and climates. The leaves of cedars give the tree its pyramid-like appearance.
Cedar tree needles
You might have heard that cedars do not have needles and thinking that they have one might mean that you have confused them with spruces. The truth is, cedars do have needles like its pine and spruce cousins.
Cedar needles are actually used as mulch specifically in soils that need acidity. Aside from adding nutrients to the soil, cedar needles are also natural repellants of beetles, ants, moths, and cockroaches.
Cedar tree identification
Because they have pine-like needles, it would be easy to point on cedar and say that it is just one of those pine tree types. There are three ways to identify a cedar tree and we will give a rundown of that in this section.
- Cedar needles grow in fine clusters. Compared to pines and spruces with finger-like extensions, cedars have finer needles. They are generally clustered along branches, creating a dense arrangement. They also commonly have blue tinges at youth and will turn rich green at maturity.
- Cedar cones sit on top. Another defining feature of cedars is that their seed cones are usually on top and not scattered on its branches. They are scaly, medium-sized, and will naturally fall off when the tree turns mature.
- Cedar barks have a limited color selection. Compared to pines and spruces, cedars have a limited bark color. It only ranges from light brown, maroon, and yellow-brown. It is also lighter in bark color than pine or spruce.
As for botanical classification, true cedars are Cedrus and faux cedars come from either junipers or cypresses. In the general classification, cedars are clustered under the family Pinaceae along with pines, spruces, firs, and junipers.
True cedar trees vs faux cedar trees
True cedars only have four species. They belong to the family Cedrus and they are mostly found in the Mediterranean or the Himalayas. They have short branches and tiny and fine needle-like foliage.
They are also notable for their woody spurs and large cones on top of the tree. They are not usually raised as ornamentals as they are found more valuable in woodworks and construction.
On the other hand, the term faux cedar is commonly given to cypresses in the Pacific Northwest because of their strong resemblance to true cedars. They are categorically listed under this term because of three defining characteristics:
- They have strong and aromatic scents used in natural oils and wood linings.
- They will retain small seed cones on top of the tree even when the seeds in it are already gone.
- They have small, overlapping, scale-like leaves that are arranged like ferns.
True cedar trees
As have been previously mentioned, there are only four true cedars. They are found in the mountain ranges of the Mediterranean and the Himalayas. They are distinguished from the faux cedars for their height, woodwork and construction value, and general appearance.
1. Cyprian Cedar (Cedrus Brevifolia)
As the name implies, it is native to Cyprus, Turkey, and Syria. It is also called the Yellow Cedar and is unique for its umbrella-like appearance.
It is considered as a rare cedar with small, rounded, deep green needles and equally small seed cones. It is a beautiful specimen tree for winter landscaping.
2. Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica)
While it is a slow grower, it could reach up to 60ft at maturity. It gets its name for being a native of the Moroccan Atlas Mountains. It enjoys full to partial shade but can also tolerate long droughts.
It is a popular specimen tree because of its attractive silver-blue-green foliage. It is also used for furniture-making and in the production of aromatic oils.
3. Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani)
It is the national tree of Lebanon and is also endemic in Turkey, Afghanistan, and Syria. It has a pyramid-like appearance and elongated, deep green needles.
It has a prominent historical significance with its wood being used to build boats in Egypt, Babylon, and Mesopotamia. It is also one of the most biblically referenced cedar as proven by archaeological finds.
It is the cedar used in the construction of many archaic palaces including that of King David’s and King Solomon’s. It remains an important wood in Lebanon mainly for its timber and naturally fragrant oils.
4. Deodar Cedar (Cedrus deodara)
Its name in Sanskrit equates to the timber of the gods. It is considered as a conifer with a weeping habit since its needles droop down. It grows tall reaching a height of 80ft and a 40ft base.
It has finer needles than most cedars and it is striking for its blue-green color. It is an important timber and woodwork source and is also farmed as a Christmas tree. It is the national tree of Pakistan.
Faux (False) Cedar Trees
As the term implies, faux cedars are not true cedars. However, they get the cedar name because of their woody and aromatic resemblance to cedars. Like true cedars, faux ones are also evergreen conifers. Faux cedars are also commonly cypresses and junipers.
5. Spanish Cedar (Cedrela Odorata)
It may not be in many US regions, but the Spanish Cedar is prized for its very lightweight wood used mainly in furniture, cabinets, windows, and other interior fixtures.
It is also a popular choice in woodworks because of its natural oils. It has a striking pink-brown wood. It is also loved because it is pest and disease-resistant and is not prone to decay.
6. Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata)
While it is also fondly called the Pacific Cedar, it is also a cypress. It is considered as the highest growing cypress reaching up to 200ft. It could also live up to 1000years.
It has deep-green, dense foliage that smells like pineapples. Because it is relatively disease-resistant, it is commercially valued for timber and wood supply specifically in making fences, decks, and sheds.
7. Alaskan Yellow Cedar (Cupressus nootkatensis)
It is native to the Pacific Northwest including Alaska and British Columbia. Unlike most cedars, it has a dense and sturdy wood with a unique yellow color. It is also a known slow-grower as exhibited by its tight-knit wood rings.
It is a popular wood choice for construction specifically in building interior panels as well as the music industry as it produces a distinct, rich acoustic effect.
8. Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana)
It is under this category because it is actually a part of the cypress family. It is also called the Aromatic Cedar because of its strong woody fragrance.
It produces the sturdiest wood of all cedars making it economically valuable for timber, woodworks, and in construction. It is also used in extracting lining oils.
9. Northern White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis)
It is also fondly called Arbor Vitae or tree of life. Its wood is observably lighter than the red cedar making it easier to work within making furniture.
It is also used in construction such as in building fences, posts, and decks. It is hardy and disease-resistant and is attractive for its creamy-brown bark, deep-green foliage, and pyramid-like appearance.
10. Incense cedar/California incense-cedar (Calocedrus decurrens)
It is native to the US particularly in Nevada, Oregon, and California. It is named as such because of its strong woody smell, especially during the warmer climates.
It is tough, adaptive and could grow very tall at 75ft and with a base of 15ft. It is usually found in open parks unique for its maroon wood and rich green, long needles.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is red cedar better than white cedar?
A lot of people get confused with the red and white cedar because of some striking similarities. For one, they have the same woody aroma (like the scent of attics or closets), they have the same surface grain and both are prized woods because of their resistance to disease and decay making them extremely durable.
When it comes to which is better, the answer is depending on where to use them. For instance, red cedar is considered as one of the finest woods in the world. It is particularly used in roofing, decking, and fencing. But aside from this, it is also used in manufacturing guitar soundboards because of its lightweight property.
It provides a warm, deep tone to guitars making it a go-to wood for its production. They are also cultivated as ornamental trees for hedges. They are also cultivated for natural oils used to deter moths and beetles.
On the other hand, white cedar is more lightweight and fine-grained than red cedar. As such, it is commonly used in roofing and sidewalls. Actually, the white cedar is more prominent in the timber and construction industry as it is also the preferred material for decking, fencing, poles, and lumber production.
Other than this, you also have to take note of these valuable facts: red cedar is sturdier and comes in larger pieces while white cedar will last longer and is more ecologically sustainable.
Is cedar an evergreen?
All cedars are evergreen conifers like their spruce, fir, and pine cousins. They have needle-like leaves that will remain green year-round, large trunks, and seed cones on top of the tree. They have stiff branches and could grow very tall and could live very long.
Cedar tree vs pine tree
Both belong to the Pinaceae family and also some of the two most cultivated conifers because of their significant use in construction and woodworks. These two, however, have stark differences and it is quite important to take notice of these.
In terms of foliage arrangement, pines tend to have needles arranged in bundles (of 2-5 needles per bundle being the most common foliage arrangement).
On the other hand, cedars have upright, short branches producing alternating, short, rounded, needle-like leaves. As for bark, pines have scalier and darker-colored barks (of brown or black-brown, burgundy) while cedars have finer and lighter-colored barks (of pink, light brown, and maroon).
As for the cones, pines have drooping cones scattered in its branches while cedars have medium-sized, very scaly seed cones positioned on top of the branches.
Cedar tree vs juniper tree
At youth, cedars have more resemblance to junipers than faux cedars. As they reach maturity, the first defining characteristic would be their height. Junipers are far shorter compared to cedars. As a matter of fact, they are cultivated more as shrubs than trees.
They have scaly, pointed needles like that of faux cedars. Aside from height, the only true differentiating characteristic of cedar from junipers is their aromatic scent.
Both may have needle-like foliage but the cones of cedars are harder, scalier while that of junipers are fleshy and berry-like (which by the way are key ingredients in making gin). One of the most famous junipers that are branded as cedar is the Eastern Red Cedar and the Bermuda Cedar.
Cedar tree care
At maturity, caring for the cedar tree will be nothing but keeping the moisture. The only time you will have to take care of the cedar tree is upon planting and during its seedling phase.
To protect it from losing moisture, you will have to apply up to 5inches of organic mulch. During winter or when the climate drops, you will also have to cover it with landscape fabric.
Sustained watering will also be essential at this phase but make sure that the soil is completely dry before watering again. Unless the soil seems unhealthy, fertilizer is not necessary.
As it reaches maturity, care requirements will be limited to regular mulching and removal of dead branches. When it reaches at least 6-8ft, it could start growing on its own until it reaches full maturity.
Cedar tree diseases
Even the decay-free cedar tree has some vulnerabilities. The most common cedar tree diseases are the following:
- Blights whose symptoms are black or white needle tips, withering, or premature shedding.
- Rusts signified by clumped galls in the branches of cedar trees. It does not do a lot of harm to cedars compared to other trees but it still needs intervention.
- Mold causes yellowing or browning leaves and also excessive shedding.
- Root rots that are visible through the white spots on the barks of cedar trees.
The common intervention for all of these would be fungicide sprays as they are all caused by fungi niching. If it happens before maturity, soil amendments and watering schedules must be done. But as have been previously mentioned, as it reaches maturity, cedars will be less susceptible to diseases.
To conclude, there are many reasons as to why cedar trees are considered valuable. We have pretty much covered the difference of cedar to other tree types like junipers and pines.
It is also very important to know the categorization of trees labeled as cedars because there are only four species of true cedars and that these are only found in the Himalayas and the Mediterranean.
In the same vein, it is important to clarify that faux cedars are mostly cypresses and that junipers are not cedars. Most importantly, cedar trees are not just historically and biblically significant but remain to be one of the most economically valuable trees in the world with their importance in construction, woodworks, music industry, and natural oils.