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Juniperus virginiana L.

Red cedar

Source: James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops. unpublished.

  1. Uses
  2. Folk Medicine
  3. Chemistry
  4. Description
  5. Germplasm
  6. Distribution
  7. Ecology
  8. Cultivation
  9. Harvesting
  10. Yields and Economics
  11. Energy
  12. Biotic Factors
  13. References


Berries of some cedars have been roasted as substitutes for coffee or tea. Hemmerly (1970) gives an interesting account of the economic uses: In 1970 the uses of this species included fence posts, furniture, cedar oil, ornamental Plantings, Christmas trees, souvenirs, novelties, kindling, shavings, etc. Plastic bags of cedar shavings were used as bedding for pets. The bark of the tree is useful as tender in starting fires Boy Scout style. According to Guenther cedarwood oil comes from Juniperus, but white cedarwood and cedarleaf oil from Thuja. Cedarwood oil is used in insect repellants, perfumes and soaps. Cedar chips have been used as moth repellants. The oil also shows up in furniture polish. Refined oil is used in microscopy. Chippewa Indians used strips of bark in matting. They used the red inner bark as a source of a red dye. Widely used for boundary markers, reforestation, shelterbelt, and wild life plantings.

Folk Medicine

According to Hartwell (1967–1971), the powdered leaves are used in folk remedies for venereal warts and other excrescences. Reported to be abortifacient, diaphoretic, diuretic, emmenagogue, stimulant, sudorific, and taenifuge, red cedar is a folk remedy for arthritis, bronchitis, catarrh, debility, dropsy, rashes, rheumatism, skin ailments, venereal diseases, and warts (Duke and Wain, 1981). Cedar "apples" (see illustration), the fungal excrescences of red cedar are used as an anthelmintic. Leaves used as a stimulant, emmenagogue, and taenifuge. In Appalachia, a mixture of nuts, leaves, and twigs is boiled and inhaled as a treatment for bronchitis. In New Mexico, some Spanish-speaking people use a boiled mixture of bark and water to treat skin rash. Rappahannock used an infusion of the berries with wild ginger for asthma. Cree used the leaves as diuretic. Powdered leaves used for venereal warts and excrescences. Dakota, Omaha, Pawnee, and Ponca burned the twigs and inhaled the smoke for head colds, while patient and fumigant were enclosed in a blanket. Comanche regarded juniper as depurative; Creek used the fumes for neck cramps. Cedar decoctions or steam were also used to promote delivery. Chickasaw heated the limbs with elder in hot water and applied topically for headache. Chippewa decocted the twigs for rheumatism, Dakota used for cholera, cold, and cough; Pawnee used juniper smoke for bad dreams and nervousness, Ojibwa took bruised leaves and berries for headache. Delaware steamed juniper for rheumatism; Fox decocted the leaves to strengthen convalescents. Western Indians believed that juniper berry tea taken on three consecutive and appropriate days was considered contraceptive. Scully relates that in 1849–1850 there was an Asiatic cholera among the Teton Dakotas, killing many of them. After failing with many other medicines, Chief Red Cloud succeeded with a decoction of red cedar leaves (which does contain germicides).


Oil from the leaves contains borneol, cadinene, d-limonene, and a-pinene (Guenther, 1948-1952). Hager's Handbuch adds sabinene, g-terpinene, elemoacetate, 3-carene, myrcene, 4-terpineol, citronellol, elemol, eudesmols, estragole, safrole, methyleugenol, elemicine, traces of thujene, cymene, and linalool (List and Horhammer, 1969–1979). The cedarwood oil contains ca 80% cedrene, some cedrol and pseudocedrol, and cedrenol. Juniperus virginiana contains the poisonous antitumor compound called podophyllotoxin (Lewis and Elvin-Lewis, 1977).


Medium sized tree to 30 m, broadly pyramidical to narrowly columnar. Bark brown, shredded, short scale leaves in close overlapping pairs, forming 4-sided twigs; (juvenile leaves are longer, flat, pointed, more distant and in whorls of 3) leaves vary from yellowish green to bluish green; fragrant. Male cones 3–4 mm long, on tips of small twigs, shedding pollen as early as January, as late as March; female cones small, inconspicuous, on tips of short branches, generally receptive for pollen several days after the cones on male trees have started shedding pollen; mature as bluish black, glaucous "berries" by October–November of first year (Radford et al., 1968).


Reported from the North American Center of Diversity, red cedar, or cvs thereof, is reported to tolerate acid soils, frost, limestone, poor soils, sands, and slope (Duke, 1978). (2n = 22)


Southwest Maine, west to Northern New York, Southern Quebec, Ontario, Michigan, Wisconsin, to Southwest North Dakota, south to West Kansas, Okalahoma to Central Texas, and east to Georgia, the most widespread and common juniper in the eastern US.


No specific data available. Estimated to range from Warm Temperate to Boreal Dry to Moist Forest Life Zones, and to tolerate annual precipitation of 4 to 16 dm and annual temperature of 5 to 13°C. Although said to "prefer" calcareous soils, it thrives on dry hillsides and in swampy land.


Germination is delayed in most junipers because of embryo dormancy. Cold stratification for 30–120 days at 5°C is commonly recommended. Freezing temperatures during stratification have either arrested germination in after-ripened seed (for 3 months) or damaged them beyond germanability. Seeds should be fall-sown or stratified and spring- or fall-sown. Seeds may be drilled 6–7 mm deep in rows 15–20 cm apart, or broadcast, and seedlings should be shaded during the first summer. Do not be alarmed if seedlings turn purple in fall, but be prepared for frost heave.


Fruits may start bearing at age 10, and can be stripped, for seed purposes thereafter in the fall. Hemmerly (1970) mentions a Shelbyville Lumber Company in Tennessee for making oil from cedar stumps, then paying only $2/ton for stumps which were dried, chipped, and pulverized, and then steam-distilled and condensed with the oil rising to the top. The company was turning out nearly 150 kg oil per day using only three workers.

Yields and Economics

In 1950, when oil was derived almost exclusively from shavings and refuse from cedar wood utilization, more than 200 MT oil were produced. Chips and dust yield 2–2.5% oil. Following the Civil War, poor farmers along Mississippi tributaries solidified their fiscal positions by floating cedar logs to New Orleans where they were cut into staves destined for French wineries. At one time, red cedar was used for split rail fences, but the value of the wood for pencils became so high that fences were cut down and sold by the pound (Hemmerly, 1970).


Not a fast grower, trees 20–30 years old being only 6–8 m tall and 5–7.5 cm in diameter, this is not a productive firewood species, though the wood burns well. The residues after oil extraction (or pencil production) should make excellent fuels, enough to feed the distillation or sawmill.

Biotic Factors

According to Ag Handbook 271, few insects damage the trees seriously. Occasionally boring insects feed on living trees and bagworms eat the foliage. As an alternate host of cedar-apple rust, Gymnosporangium Juniperi-virginianae, red cedar is the enemy of apple growers. The following are reported to affect red cedar: Aleurodiscus nivosus, Botryosphaeria ribis, Caliciopsis nigra, Cenangella deformata, Cercospora sequoiae var. juniperi, Chloroscypha cedrina, Coccodothis sphaeroidea, Cytospora cenisia, Daedalea juniperina, D. westii, Dothidella juniperi, Fomes annosus, F. juniperina, F. pini, F. roseus, F. subroseus, F. texanus, Gymnosporangium bermudianum, G. clavipes, G. corniculans, G. davisii, G. effusum, G. exiguum, G. exterum. G. floriforme, G. globosum, G juniperi-virginianae, G. nidus-avis, G. trachysorum, G. tubulatum, Lenzites vialis, Lophodermium juniperinum, Macrophoma,juniperina, Pestalotia funerea, Phomopsis juniperovora, Phymatotrichum omnivorum, Physalospora abdita, P. cupressi, P. obtusa, Pithya cupressina, Poria pupurea, P. subacida, Stagonospora pini, Streptothrix spp., Trametes americana, T. carnea, T. septum, and Valsa cenisia (Browne, 1968; Ag Handbook 165). Pratylenchus penetrans is one nematode pest. (Golden, p.c., 1984)


Complete list of references for Duke, Handbook of Energy Crops
Last update Wednesday, January 7, 1998 by aw