Saturday, February 6, 2016

Cedar Blush

The foggy morning was a prelude to the storm that just ended. Blue sky, something we've had little of this winter, is now in its stead. It is these weather events that make a cold climate tolerable, just rewards for what can be hard.

Moisture riding the push of warm advection crystallizes on cold twigs and grasses.

And sumac not yet pecked by the birds.

I love the cedars that grow here; reminding me of those that break the monotony of old fields on Long Island. They, of course, are the same species, and aren't truly cedars -Eastern Red Cedar, Juniperus virginiana. These are tough trees, can be over nine hundred years old, tolerate drought and wet, cold, and the poorest soils. While deer browse your expensive arborvitae hedges, by the looks of the Eastern Reds around here, they hardly touch them. There is gin, of course, and the aesthetics which, to my eye, are some of the best an evergreen can provide.

There is a moment every autumn, usually middle to late, when the cedars turn bronze, red, mauve, blushed or however you may see it. This change requires a loss of some of chlorophyll's green and the development of red anthocyanins and the two, together, create this bronzing effect. This is painter's stuff, mixing reds and greens to create blacks more green or more red. The dark bronze contrasts with the white of aspens and snow and plays well with ochre field plants.

Like so many plants you love, someone, somewhere lists them as invasive. How can this be, you ask, after all it is a native in its range! Well, I rationalize it this way -Eastern Reds grow readily in farm fields and get a bad rap for its ability to grow readily from bird-dropped seeds in these fields. The other reason is the loss of fire as a control agent, but this is our fault, and we shouldn't be blaming the cedar. Finally, because we plowed under so much prairie that there is less than one percent of it left, managers curse the Eastern Red for colonizing what's left that isn't being managed by fire. Given these rationalizations, I still wouldn't blink if I had the opportunity to plant one on our land.  I may well have that chance in one of the many clearings created by downed large oaks or bass that have given rise to another accomplished colonizer -common buckthorn.


  1. Although the indigenous cedar here in the Willamette Valley is not the Eastern Red Cedar, it is the one tree other than maple that grows easily in our big shady yard. A small deck on one end of the house abuts a big cedar whose branches are growing between the deck rails, and the air on that deck is always freshened, well nigh perfumed, by that cedar. Your description of the colors of Eastern Red Cedar in mid-late autumn give me one more reason to visit Minnesota at that time of year!

    I hope you get a lot more of that incomparable Minnesota blue winter sky before spring comes. Best regards, Leslie in Oregon

    1. It's been cloudy much, but we've got a few more weeks of winter left!