Thuja occidentalis

Thuja occidentalis
Thuja occidentalis
Thuja occidentalis foliage and cones
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Pinophyta
Class: Pinopsida
Order: Pinales
Family: Cupressaceae
Genus: Thuja
Species: T. occidentalis
Binomial name
Thuja occidentalis

Thuja occidentalis (Eastern Arborvitae, Northern Whitecedar) is an evergreen coniferous tree, in the cypress family Cupressaceae, which is widely cultivated for use as an ornamental plant known as American Arbor Vitae.[1] The endemic occurrence of this species is a northeastern distribution in North America. It is thought to be the first tree of that region to be cultivated in the area in and around Europe.

Common names include: Tree of Life, Yellow Cedar, American Arborvitae, Arbor Vitae, Atlantic White Cedar, Cedrus Lycea, Eastern White Cedar, False White Cedar, Hackmatack, Lebensbaum, Thuia du Canada, Thuja.



Botanical illustration from 1913

An evergreen tree with fan-like branches and scaly leaves. Unlike the closely related species, Thuja plicata (Western Redcedar), it is only a small tree. Growing to a height of 10–20 metres (33–66 ft) tall with a 0.4 metres (1.3 ft) trunk diameter, exceptionally to 30 metres (98 ft) tall and 1.6 metres (5.2 ft) diameter, the tree is often stunted or prostrate. The bark is red-brown, furrowed and peels in narrow, longitudinal strips. The foliage forms in flat sprays with scale-like leaves 3–5 millimetres (0.12–0.20 in) long. The cones are slender, yellow-green ripening brown, 10–15 millimetres (0.39–0.59 in) long and 4–5 millimetres (0.16–0.20 in) broad, with 6-8 overlapping scales. The branches may take root if the tree falls.[2]

Northern whitecedars found to be growing on cliff faces in southern Ontario are the oldest trees in Eastern North America and all of Canada, growing to ages in excess of 1,653 years old.[2]


Thuja occidentalis is native to Manitoba east throughout the Great Lakes Region and into Québec, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. Isolated populations exist to the south in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia.[2]

Naming and taxonomy

The species was first described by Carolus Linnaeus in 1753, and the name remains current. Common names include Eastern Arborvitae, American Arborvitae, Techny Arborvitae, or just Arborvitae, the last particularly in the horticultural trade. This name, arbor vitae, is derived from the tree of life motif - for the supposed medicinal properties of the sap, bark and twigs.[3] Other names by which it is known include Northern Whitecedar, Eastern Whitecedar or White Cedar, and Swamp Cedar. Thuja occidentalis trees are unrelated to cedars, or to the Australian tree, Melia azedarach, also known as White Cedar. A large number of names for cultivars are used by horticulturalists.


Thuja occidentalis grows naturally in wet forests, being particularly abundant in coniferous swamps where other larger and faster-growing trees cannot compete successfully. It also occurs on other sites with reduced tree competition such as cliffs. Although not currently listed as endangered, wild Thuja occidentalis populations are threatened in many areas by high deer numbers; deer find the soft evergreen foliage a very attractive winter food, and strip it rapidly. The largest known specimen is 34 m tall and 175 cm diameter, on South Manitou Island within Leelanau County, Michigan.

It can be a very long-lived tree in certain conditions, with notably old specimens growing on cliffs where they are inaccessible to deer and wildfire; the oldest known living specimen is just over 1,100 years old, but a dead specimen with over 1,650 growth rings has been found.[4] These very old trees are, despite their age, small and stunted due to the difficult growing conditions. The Witch Tree, a T. occidentalis growing out of a cliff face on Lake Superior in Minnesota, was described by a French explorer as being a mature tree in 1731; it is still alive today.


Grown as an ornamental specimen, Powsin Botanical Garden, Warsaw, Poland

White Cedar is a tree with important uses in traditional Ojibwe culture. Honoured with the name Nookomis Giizhik ("Grandmother Cedar"), the tree is the subject of sacred legends and is considered a gift to humanity for its myriad uses. It is used in craft, construction and medicine.[5] It is one of the four plants of the Ojibwe medicine wheel, associated with the south. The foliage of Thuja occidentalis is rich in Vitamin C and is believed to be the annedda which cured the scurvy of Jacques Cartier and his party in the winter of 1535–1536.[6] Due to the neurotoxic compound thujone, internal use can be harmful if used for prolonged periods or while pregnant.

Thuja occidentalis is widely used as an ornamental tree, particularly for screens and hedges. Over 300 cultivars exist, with some of the more common ones being: 'Degroot's Spire', 'Ellwangeriana', 'Hetz Wintergreen', 'Lutea', 'Rheingold', 'Smaragd' (a.k.a. 'Emerald Green'), 'Techny', and 'Wareana'. It was introduced into Europe as early as 1540 and is widely cultivated now, especially in parks and cemeteries.

Northern white cedar is commercially used for rustic fencing and posts, lumber, poles, shingles and in the construction of log cabins,[6] White cedar is the preferred wood for the structural elements, such as ribs and planking, of birchbark canoes and the planking of wooden canoes.[7]

The essential oil within the plant has been used for cleansers, disinfectants, hair preparations, insecticides, liniment, room sprays, and soft soaps. There are some reports that the Ojibwa made a soup from the inner bark of the soft twigs. Others have used the twigs to make teas to relieve constipation and headache.[7]

In the 19th century Thuja was in common use as an externally applied tincture or ointment for the treatment of warts, ringworm and thrush.[8] "An injection of the tincture into venereal warts is said to cause them to disappear."[9]



  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c "Thuja occidentalis Linnaeus 1753". Gymnosperm Database. 
  3. ^ Thuja, American Cancer Society, last revised 6/19/2007. available online
  4. ^
  5. ^ Geniusz, Wendy Makoons (2009). Our Knowledge is not Primitive. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press
  6. ^ a b Russell M. Burns and Barbara H. Honkala (Technical Coordinators) (December 1990). "Thuja occidentalis L.: Northern White-Cedar". Silvics of North America (Agriculture Handbook 654). 
  7. ^ a b "USDA/NRCS Plant Guide: Northern White Cedar, Thuja occidentalis L." (PDF). United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 2008-02-15. 
  8. ^ David Hoffmann, Medical Herbalism: Principles and Practices, Healing Arts Press, 2003, p.588
  9. ^ M Grieve, A Modern Herbal, London: Jonathan Cape, 1931, p.177

External links

  1. Conifer Specialist Group (1998). Thuja occidentalis. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 12 May 2006.
  2. Gymnosperm Database: Thuja occidentalis
  3. Thuja occidentalis

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Thuja occidentalis — Thuja Thu ja, n. [NL., from Gr. ? an African tree with sweet smelling wood.] (Bot.) A genus of evergreen trees, thickly branched, remarkable for the distichous arrangement of their branches, and having scalelike, closely imbricated, or compressed …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Thuja occidentalis —   Tuya del Canadá Follaje y conos de Thuja oc …   Wikipedia Español

  • Thuja occidentalis — Abendländischer Lebensbaum Abendländischer Lebensbaum (Thuja occidentalis) Systematik Klasse: Pinopsida …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Thuja occidentalis — vakarinė tuja statusas T sritis vardynas apibrėžtis Kiparisinių šeimos dekoratyvinis, medieninis, vaistinis augalas (Thuja occidentalis), paplitęs Šiaurės Amerikoje. Iš jo gaunamas eterinis aliejus. atitikmenys: lot. Thuja occidentalis; Thuja… …   Lithuanian dictionary (lietuvių žodynas)

  • Thuja occidentalis — Thuya d Occident Thuya d Occident …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Thuja occidentalis — ? Туя западная Общий вид взрослого растения. Северная Дакота, США Научная классификация Царство: Растения …   Википедия

  • Thuja occidentalis — Arbor vitae Ar bor vi t[ae] [L., tree of life.] 1. (Bot.) An evergreen tree of the cypress tribe, genus {Thuja}. The American species is the {Thuja occidentalis}. [1913 Webster] 2. (Anat.) The treelike disposition of the gray and white nerve… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Thuja occidentalis — White White (hw[imac]t), a. [Compar. {Whiter} (hw[imac]t [ e]r); superl. {Whitest}.] [OE. whit, AS. hw[imac]t; akin to OFries. and OS. hw[=i]t, D. wit, G. weiss, OHG. w[=i]z, hw[=i]z, Icel. hv[=i]tr, Sw. hvit, Dan. hvid, Goth. hweits, Lith.… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Thuja occidentalis — ID 84133 Symbol Key THOC2 Common Name arborvitae Family Cupressaceae Category Gymnosperm Division Coniferophyta US Nativity Native to U.S. US/NA Plant Yes State Distribution CT, IA, IL, IN, KY, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, NC, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, SC,… …   USDA Plant Characteristics

  • Thuja occidentalis — noun small evergreen of eastern North America having tiny scalelike leaves on flattened branchlets • Syn: ↑American arborvitae, ↑northern white cedar, ↑white cedar • Hypernyms: ↑arborvitae • Member Holonyms: ↑Thuja, ↑ …   Useful english dictionary

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