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Discover Nature: Eastern Red-Cedar Trees

A yellow and black male prairie warbler sings with beak open on the green branch of an Eastern red cedar tree in front of a blue sky background.
A male prairie warbler sings from a branch of an Eastern red-cedar tree in Callaway County. Eastern red-cedar trees have historically provided Christmas trees and other wood products, from pencils to fenceposts.

Over the river and through the woods… whether out for a hike, or on the hunt for your next Christmas tree, Discover Nature this week, and watch for Missouri’s Eastern red-cedars.

Eastern red-cedar trees are not true cedars – they actually belong to the juniper genus of the cypress family. True cedars belong to the cedrus genus in the pine family.

Nonetheless, these aromatic evergreens offer food and cover for birds and wildlife, often providing windbreaks and wildlife corridors in cemeteries, farmyards, and neighborhoods.

Historically, red-cedars were mostly confined to bluffs and cliffs in Missouri, where fire could not reach them. Some of the gnarled red-cedars on Ozark bluffs are more than 1,000 years old.

Since European settlement, fire suppression and other changes in land use have made these trees much more prolific – and sometimes problematic.

Red-cedars play an important role in returning disturbed landscapes to forest. But they can quickly create land-management challenges when they invade ecological communities such as glades, savannas, prairies, and open woodlands.

For centuries, humans have cultivated red-cedars for wood products – from pencils to fenceposts – and their resin is used for ointments, soaps, and flavoring gin.

Red-cedar was a traditional favorite Christmas tree in old-time Ozark homes, and for many, still is today.

Learn more about Missouri’s Eastern red-cedar trees, and find places near you to see them growing in the wild with theMissouri Department of Conservation’s online field guide.

Discover Nature is sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Kyle Felling was born in the rugged northwest Missouri hamlet of St. Joseph (where the Pony Express began and Jesse James ended). Inspired from a young age by the spirit of the early settlers who used St. Joseph as an embarkation point in their journey westward, Kyle developed the heart of an explorer and yearned to leave for adventures of his own. Perhaps as a result of attending John Glenn elementary school, young Kyle dreamed of becoming an astronaut, but was disheartened when someone told him that astronauts had to be good at math. He also considered being a tow truck driver, and like the heroes of his favorite childhood television shows (The A-Team and The Incredible Hulk) he saw himself traveling the country, helping people in trouble and getting into wacky adventures. He still harbors that dream.
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