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juniper cones

Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) cones

Eastern Red Cedar and Western Red cedar are two very different trees. Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata) is a true cedar (Genus: Thuja) and is closely related to Eastern White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis). But Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is actually a juniper. It is easily distinguished from the other 2 trees by its blue berry-like cones. True cedars have brown woody cones . They are correctly called cones because these trees are gymnosperms, which means "naked seeds". Gynnosperm cones are composed of seeds that are surrounded by scales. Think of the typical pine cone where each papery seed is covered by a scale and the group pf scales form the cone. In junipers the scales swell up and fuse to form a small soft fleshy cone. The yews (Genus: Taxus) are close relatives of the junipers and also have berry like cone, but is composed of a single seed surrounded by a fleshy fused scale and is called an aril. Only the angiosperms ( "closed seed") plants have true fruits composed of seeds (ovules) surrounded by the ripened ovary.

In nature juniper cones are ecologically similar to berries. The cones provide a nutritious food source for Cedar wax-wings and other song birds, as well as an effective dispersal mechanism for the juniper. Seeds eaten by birds are not harmed by digestion and can be transported great distances from the parent tree. Juniper cones have a distinctive scent when crushed and are probably most famous because they are used to give gin its distinctive flavor.

Before European settlement Eastern Red Cedar was rae in Wisconsin and was found mainly in fire-free cedar glades. It has thin bark and so is extremely sensitive to fire. Since fire suppression programs began the species has spread into many other habitats. It can become invasive on dry or infertile sites, but cannot compete with other tree species on moist nutrient rich soils.

For information on other Juniper and yew species found in Wisconsin:


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Last updated on April 15, 2014