Take a close look at the Atlantic White Cedar Tree, what it looks like, how it reproduces, where it usually grows and what are the conditions upon which these trees thrive.
The Atlantic white cedar may also be known by the names of Atlantic white cypress, southern white cedar, false cypress, or swamp cedar (because of their growing condition). This tree species is part of the Cupressaceae family (cypress) and is not actually a true cedar, which would be part of the genus Cedrus.
Atlantic white cedar forests are native to the Atlantic coast of North America and can be found in some of the most flood-prone areas of the region. These trees were once valued in the lumber industry, but with shrinking populations, they can only be found in very remote locations, and are not harvested as easily.
Atlantic white cedars are medium sized and medium fast growing, but some trees can live to be over 1000 years old if they’re growing in the right location. Their average age is closer to 300.
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What do Atlantic White Cedar Trees Look Like?
The Atlantic white cedar tree grows in extremely water saturated soils. When trees grow in very moist conditions, they will more commonly develop a root system that is very shallow in the soil.
Trees do this because when they have all the moisture they need, root systems don’t need to grow in the directions of a moisture reserve, which is usually very deep in the earth.
White cedars will have roots that rarely grow any deeper than 20 inches in the soil, though this can somewhat be to their detriment. If they don’t have a well established root system, they can be easily knocked over by a strong wind storm.
This tree is a medium-sized tree, usually reaching heights between 20 and 28 meters. Some exceptional trees have been known to grow over 35 meters tall. Their trunk diameter will linger between half a meter and 2 meters around.
Atlantic white cedars have short, horizontal branches, and drooping twigs. This growth pattern creates a very narrow, conical shape. These trees are actually known for having such dense crowns that tree canopies will often intertwine and become stuck together.
A young tree will have smooth bark that is a red/brown color and grows in thin scales. A mature tree will have developed deep ridges with thicker bark, and it will fade into an ash gray color.
Atlantic white cedars are evergreen, meaning that they have leaves that will remain green and persist all year long, regardless of the season.
These trees produce a needle-like leaf when they are juvenile seedlings, and once they grow to be over a year old, they will grow feather-like leaves.
Atlantic white cedar leaves are feather like and grow in flattened sprays. They grow in opposite decussate pairs on a twig, and they are either a green or glaucous blue color.
How do Atlantic White Cedars Reproduce?
Cedar trees are monoecious, meaning that a single tree will produce both male cones (pollen cones – pollen producing) and female cones (seed cones – ovule producing).
A pollen cone is a very small ovoid shape, and emerges as a yellow color which will eventually fade to brown when the cone is mature. They release yellow pollen in the spring.
A seed cone is a very small globose shape, and is either green or purple, eventually fading into a brown color once it it mature. This is usually 5-7 months after pollination.
A seed cone will have between 6 and 10 scales with 2 seeds per scale. Pollen lands on the scale of a seed cone and fertilizes the seed.
Seeds & Sexual Maturity
Atlantic white cedar trees begin bearing cones around the age of 4 or 5, though they will be most sexually reproductive around 10-20. A tree has a successful seed crop every year, and seeds are wind dispersed.
What are Some Other Cedar Types?
The Northern White Cedar Tree (Thuja Occidentalis)
Northern white cedar trees are also sometimes call an eastern white cedar or arborvitae. They are part of the cypress family, and they are native to eastern Canada and the northeastern United States.
These trees are a medium sized cedar, usually obtaining heights of 30-40 meters. They are commonly grown as an ornamental plant or hedge tree.
The Western Red Cedar Tree (Thuja Plicata)
Western red cedars are also sometimes called the Pacific red cedar, the giant arborvitae, or the western arborvitae. They are one of the most widespread tree species in the Pacific northwest.
These are very large trees, sometimes reaching heights between 65 and 70 meters. They can be found from sea level to high altitudes.
The Atlas Cedar Tree (Cedrus Atlantica)
Atlas cedars are part of the pine family, and they are native to the Atlas mountains of Morocco. They tend to form forests on mountainsides when growing wild.
These are common cultivated trees and are used as ornamental or street trees. They are medium to large sized, reaching heights between 30 and 35 meters.
Where do Atlantic White Cedar Trees Grow?
Atlantic white cedars are native trees to the Atlantic coast of North America. They can be found growing from southern Maine towards Georgia, eastern North Carolina, along the gulf coast of Mexico, and from northern Florida and Florida panhandle towards Mississippi.
Cedar forests usually grow within 100 miles of the coastline and at least within 50 meters above sea level, though there are some very rare populations at the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. They won’t linger too far from the coastal plain.
The Atlantic white cedar habitat is exclusively a freshwater wetland, and are these trees are even considered as being an obligate wetland species. They dominate the forest canopy of these areas, and can often be found growing in competition with the red maple and the black gum trees.
This tree tends to grow on a small mound or hummock, with water pooling in the depressions. This is a way to keep the tree from being entirely underwater all year long, as since it is extremely tolerant to flood, it can’t survive it all year. They will grow most commonly in bogs, swamps, and near sandhills.
What are the Growing Conditions of Atlantic White Cedars?
This tree must live in soil that is completely water-saturated during its growing season. This wet soil is usually comprised of very thick organic matter with sandy soil in greater depths. This type of soil has very poor drainage.
This soil is also very acidic. This is because little oxygen can be stored within it due to the displacement of air due to flooding. Sphagnum mosses completely cover these areas.
Atlantic white cedars are evergreen, and evergreen trees usually require tons of sunlight. Though they can handle partial shade, they prefer full sun.
Because Atlantic white cedars are obligate wetland species, that means that they must have soil that is completely water saturated all year long. This means that they must live in areas that receive tons of annual precipitation. These areas ares sometimes called an “Atlantic white cedar swamp”.
How are Atlantic White Cedars Used?
These trees are a rather important tree in horticulture, as they are very easy to care for and seeds readily germinate. There are several cultivars that are created with varying crown shapes, growth rates, and colors of foliage.
They are very popular for planting as garden trees, street trees, landscape trees, and in parks as well.
Atlantic white cedar tree wood was once popular in the lumber industry, though populations dwindled rather quickly as it takes a full 70 years before a tree is tall enough to be harvested.
This wood was once used for roof shingles, and heartwood was used for siding, boat construction, and wood paneling as well.
The forest ecology of this tree is apparent in forest wetlands. They help create canopies with the red maple and black gum tree. They are a very important source of habitat and food for the Hessel’s Hairstreak butterfly, who will feed exclusively on cedar foliage.