Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Atlantic White Cedar - Chamaecyparis thyoides   (L.) Britton, Sterns, & Poggenburg
Members of Cupressaceae:
Only member of Chamaecyparis in NC.
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Section 3 » Order Pinales » Family Cupressaceae
Author(L.) Britton, Sterns, & Poggenburg
DistributionStrictly in the Coastal Plain, occurring over nearly all of the province but absent from some of the northern portions. Present from the coast inward to Gates, Martin, Johnston, Lee, Moore, and Richmond counties. It has been reported in Wake County, barely into the Piedmont. Absent from the Outer Banks.

Almost strictly a Coastal Plain species from ME to central FL and west to MS. However, within this sizable range it is quite spotty, being rare in most states, with widest distribution in NC, NJ, CT, and MA.
AbundanceUncommon as a whole over the Coastal Plain, but abundance is highly localized. Fairly common along streams in the Sandhills, and locally fairly common to common in large pocosin areas from the Great Dismal Swamp south to Croatan National Forest. Locally numerous also in Carolina bays in Bladen County and in central Brunswick County (Green Swamp). However, rare in quite a few counties, especially in the central and northwestern portions. There are still a few areas of extensive stands, but these are becoming rarer by the decade owing to logging and to fire suppression, and formerly to peat mining. Some stands of the cedar are being lost to salt water intrusion and sea level rise. Despite the fact that stands of this tree are becoming more scarce, and natural communities featuring this species are in decline, the number of sites for the species in the state are widespread enough (dozens of streams in the Sandhills, for example) that a State Rank of S3S4, perhaps even S4, seems warranted.
HabitatThis is a species of strongly acidic, peaty soils, as well as acidic waters in sandy areas such as the Sandhills. It favors the interior of pocosins and peat-based Carolina bays, but also is widespread along blackwater streams, seepages, and floodplains in the Sandhills.
PhenologySheds pollen in March and April; fruits ripen in October and November.
IdentificationThis is a medium-sized evergreen tree with distinctive bark. The fairly tight brown-gray bark has narrow, vertical ridges and grooves that typically spiral upward to the left. It can only be confused with Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana); however, white cedar has tighter and gray bark, and the leaves – which are closely overlapping scales – are in flattened “sprays”. Red cedar has rather shreddy brownish bark and the spray of leaves are not flattened into a single plane. In addition, the white cedar has small, brown woody cones and not the familiar pale blue “berries” of the red cedar. As Eastern Red Cedar is scarce in the Coastal Plain, except as escapes, you normally will have little trouble identifying Chamaecyparis. However, red cedar does grow in many brackish marshes and coastal thickets, and there can cause confusion, as white cedar can grow near red cedars, especially along the shores of Pamlico Sound in Dare County.
Taxonomic CommentsMost references do not give varieties for this species, but Weakley (2018) lists a variety in the FL Panhandle and southern AL, and thus the primary form is named C. thyoides var. thyoides.

Other Common Name(s)Juniper, Swamp Cedar, White Cypress
State RankS3 [S3S4]
Global RankG4
State Status
US Status
USACE-agcpOBL link
USACE-empOBL link
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Photo Gallery
B.A. SorrieStreamhead, western Harnett County. 2022. HarnettPhoto_natural
B.A. SorrieStreamhead, Sandhills Game Land, Aug 2014.
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