Juniperus virginiana (Eastern Red Cedar)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Cupressaceae (Cypress)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Habitat:part shade, sun; sandy or rocky soil; prairies, old fields, fencerows, slopes, roadsides, open woods, swamps
Bloom season:April - May
Plant height:10 to 80 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: UPL MW: FACU NCNE: FACU
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: indistinct

[photo of male strobili] Male and female flowers are cone like structures called strobili, borne on separate trees. Male cones are oval to egg shaped, 1/8 to 1/6 inch long with yellowish brown scales holding the yellow pollen, at the tips of 2nd year branches.

[photo of female strobili] Female flower cones appear as several ranks of yellowish-tan to blue-green scales at branch tips, little more than 1/16 inch long.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: opposite Leaf attachment: whorl Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves on mature growth] Leaves are of two kinds. Leaves on older, slower growing twigs are lance-oval, scale-like tapering to a pointed tip, crowded together in opposite pairs, overlapping and tightly appressed to the branch, 1/10 inch long or less (1-3 mm).

[photo of leaves on juvenile growth] Leaves on young, fast growing branches are awl-like, up to 1/3 inch long, spaced some distance apart, opposite or in whorls of three, with the sharp tip spreading making them very prickly. Early season the foliage turns green but by late summer and through winter, turns a dark bronzy red, often with a waxy bloom. Leaves can persist 4 to 6 years. 

[photo of mature trunk] Trunks are up to 20 inches in diameter. Older bark is thin, grayish brown in long, thin and flattened vertical ridges that peel off in long stringy strips over time. Branchlets on fast juvenile growth are long, thin and straight, on older growth they are short and much divergent, forming branched coral-like clusters at branch tips. 

Fruit: Fruit type: berry/drupe

[photo of fruit] Fruit is an irregularly round berry-like cone, up to ¼ inch diameter with a waxy bluish coating similar to blueberries. Immature cones are fleshy becoming dry and pithy.

[photo of seed] A cone contains 1 to 3 seeds; seeds are irregularly egg-shaped and remain within the closed cone until dispersed by animals.


Red Cedar is a small to mid-sized, conical shaped evergreen tree and is not a true cedar at all, but a juniper. While extremely drought tolerant, it is intolerant of both shade and fire and historically it was mostly restricted to sparsely vegetated, open, fire protected margins of slopes, bluffs and rock outcrops. It is also long-lived, some specimens four centuries or older in age. With the absence of fire in the present time, it has become common across the landscape in open, dry habitats from abandoned fields and pastures to open rolling and steep goat prairies. It can readily invade even high quality native prairie, eventually creating a closed canopy that chokes out ground layer species. Managed burns easily remove young plants but low fuel levels under larger trees requires difficult and labor intensive mechanical removal and disposal in large reclamation projects. Known for its decay resistant and aromatic wood, there is a common notion that it can protect clothing from insect damage. While it has been shown that fresh cut wood may provide some repellancy, it won't kill insects present and once dried out provides no protection whatsoever. Eastern Red Cedar is an alternate host for Cedar-apple rust, a fungus that forms bright orange to brown balls on branches and can cause some crop damage to apple trees. There are 2 recognized varieties of Juniperus virginiana: var. silicicola is present in the southeastern US, has smaller fruit and older leaves with blunt to pointed tips; var. virginiana is present throughout the eastern half of the US, including Minnesota, into Canada, and is described above.

Native Plant Nurseries, Restoration and Landscaping Services ↓

Map of native plant resources in the upper midwest

  • Landscape Alternatives
  • ReWild Native Gardens
  • Out Back Nursery
  • Shop for native seeds and plants at!
  • Shooting Star Native Seeds - Native Prairie Grass and Wildflower Seeds

More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka, Dakota, Kandiyohi, Ramsey and Scott counties.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Angela Huddleston - North of Belview, Redwood County
on: 2019-11-10 07:38:23

I think this might be the cedar that has taken over my grandfather’s farm near the Minnesota River bottom. Any suggestions as to the best way this tree can be removed so the natural rock formations can be seen again and possibly serve a useful purpose? Is this a valuable resource? The Minnesota DNR has original prairie grounds near on this same farm. I am a part owner now of this farm.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2019-11-10 08:42:43

Angela, controlled burning is a standard practice to keep the woodies at bay, but it's not something you want to tackle on your own. The cedar isn't necessarily a valuable resource but the rock outcrop habitat is and the DNR wants them preserved. Try contacting your county Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) and see if they can help.

Posted by: Janet Dickinson - LeSueur
on: 2020-02-29 15:48:38

Can red cedar trees be transplanted successfully and where would you find them?

Posted by: Caroline - La Crescent area
on: 2020-04-19 18:41:21

We inherited a fence line of these trees and now find them popping up along our pasture fence lines and within them, too. At least they are a native, and I appreciate their winter food value- but they don't belong in my pastures and they do wreak havoc with our apple trees (wild and otherwise). How do you recommend my getting rid of them without chemicals, and without fire - can I cut them to the ground, for example? Many thanks for your help.

Posted by: Pat W - Everywhere
on: 2020-06-14 19:45:22

This cedar is also host to Cedar-Hawthorn rust and as such is not a good plant to have in the area. A previous property I owned in Meeker cty had a wonderful old growth of Hawthorns along Belle Lake, but the slowly encroaching Red Cedar caused the rust to decimate the Haws in fall. As such, it is my preference to remove Red Cedar on my property whenever it is discovered. Apple growers also know what I mean.

Posted by: Laura Tabolich - Minneapolis
on: 2020-06-28 19:45:25

I'm in South Minneapolis. I have 3 in my front yard that my friend just identified. No idea how they got here, they just started growing in my front yard. How far away from apple trees do they need to be?

Posted by: C Edward Clemmer - Lake Bronson State Park
on: 2023-09-19 22:13:16

Has eastern red cedar been reported from Lake Bronson State Park?

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2023-09-20 08:07:18

C Edward Clemmer, as of this writing eastern red cedar has not been recorded in MN's far northwest counties except for a single report on iNaturalist, which happens to be from Lake Bronson SP.

Post a comment

Note: All comments are moderated before posting to keep the riff-raff out. An email address is required, but will not be posted—it will only be used for information exchange between the 2 of us (if needed) and will never be given to a 3rd party without your express permission.

For info on subjects other than plant identification (gardening, invasive species control, edible plants, etc.), please check the links and invasive species pages for additional resources.


Note: Comments or information about plants outside of Minnesota and neighboring states may not be posted because I’d like to keep the focus of this web site centered on Minnesota. Thanks for your understanding.