Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Nature Bulletin No. 362-A   December 13, 1969
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

Many years ago, on a farm in hilly regions of the Middle West, the Christmas tree was apt to be a "cedar" selected from those that punctuated the hillsides and pastures. According to the notebooks kept by the first surveyors of Cook County, in the 1830' s, there were cedars here. If we had them now they would not only add character and beauty to the landscape, especially in winter, but also furnish food and cover for many birds and small mammals.

Actually, this tree is a juniper, known commercially and in tree books as Eastern Redcedar. The name "cedar" is very confusing. Instead of being used for one type of evergreen -- such as pine, spruce, fir or hemlock -- it has been applied to junipers, whitecedars, cypresses and other kinds of trees. None of the true cedars is native to this country but the Cedar of Lebanon, the Atlas Cedar from the mountains of North Africa, and the Deodar of "god tree" of the Himalayas have been extensively planted for ornamental purposes.

Junipers have distinctive fruits: small cones in which the waxy scales are fused together to form a fleshy "berry". On some species these berries are red-brown or orange but on most they are blue and very aromatic. Junipers are also peculiar in that they have two types of evergreen leaves. Seedlings and the young twigs of older trees have small needle-like leaves. Most of the branches on mature trees are covered with tiny overlapping scale-like leaves. There are about 40 species of junipers, widely distributed throughout the northern hemisphere. Some of these vary in size and shape from tall columnar forms to low cones or spreading platter-like shrubs with long trailing branches. Both native and foreign kinds of junipers, including many horticultural varieties, are widely used in landscaping. Of eleven species native in North America, two are found in Illinois.

Best known is the Eastern Redcedar found from Canada to the Gulf, east of the Great Plains. It is a dense slow-growing tree that may never become more than a bush on poor soil but is ordinarily from 20 to 50 feet tall with a short trunk from one to two feet in diameter. On bottomlands in southern states it may live to be 300 years old, more than 100 feet tall, and more than four feet in diameter. Its sky blue berries are used to flavor gin and as kidney medicine. They furnish winter food for wildlife and the tiny wingless seeds are scattered by birds.

The redcedar's fine-grained brittle wood -- pinkish red to brownish red, surrounded by a thin layer of white sapwood -- is very fragrant, very light and very durable in soil. It is in great demand for pencils, cigar boxes, fence posts, poles, woodenware, canoes, and lining for clothes chests and closets. Moths avoid it. Cedar oil is distilled from the twigs and leaves. Because of its shreddy reddish bark, which peels off in narrow fibrous strips, the French called it baton rouge, meaning "red stick".

The common Juniper is a smaller tree, very variable and more likely to be a low spreading shrub. It ranges from the Arctic to Pennsylvania, Illinois and through the Rockies, as well as northern Europe and Asia, In the west we have the Utah or Desert juniper and the Sierra juniper. In the southwest there are four species, including the burly Alligator juniper with its thick bark checkered into scaly squares. Many of the earliest prehistoric people lived in or near the pinon pine and juniper forests which furnished them food, fuel, and wood for shelter or utensils.

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