Tree of the Month: Eastern White Cedar

The eastern white cedar, also known as the northern white cedar, swamp cedar, eastern thuja, and eastern arborvitae, is an evergreen coniferous tree that is native to Canada from Manitoba to the east coast.

This tree species naturally occurs in sphagnum bogs, in swampy areas or in very shallow dry soils where the underlying rock is limestone. Although some trees can grow up to 25 m high (82’) and 90 cm in diameter (35”), the average tree size is around 15 m high (49’) and 30 cm in diameter (11”). This is a slow-growing tree that usually lives for two hundred years; however, some trees have been found in the Niagara Escarpment that are over 700 years old!

The bark of the eastern white cedar is thin, shiny and reddish-brown when the tree is young. It separates into flat narrow strips as the tree matures. The wood of the eastern white cedar is resistant to decay and is cherished for its use as fence posts and in canoe making. Living trees are prone to heart-rot though, and as a result, many have hollow trunks.

The leaf-covered twigs of this cedar are a favourite winter food for the white-tailed deer, and so, deer like to spend winters in or near forest groves of the eastern white cedar. Other animals that benefit from this tree as habitat include snowshoe hares, porcupines, red squirrels, birds and insects.

The eastern white cedar is a common sight as a hedge tree, but when open-grown, they are slender, conical trees with a long crown and a neat, trimmed appearance.

People have long made use of the eastern white cedar as a natural medicine. The Latin word arborvitae, meaning “tree of life,” is thought to have originated in the 16th century in reference to this tree species.

Want to grow one?

The eastern white cedar tolerates some shade, and a variety of soils, but prefers moist soil. When used as a hedge, note that it does not fare well if subjected to road salt in winter.


Province of Ontario. “Eastern White Cedar”

Evergreen. “Eastern White Cedar.”

Farrar, John Laird. “Trees in Canada.” Markham: Fitzhenry & Whiteside Ltd., 2013. Print.

Image Sources

Macphail Woods. “Eastern White Cedar.”

Ontario Trees & Shrubs. “Eastern White Cedar.”