Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Eastern Red Cedar - Juniperus virginiana   L.
Members of Cupressaceae:
Members of Juniperus with account distribution info or public map:
Google Images
Section 3 » Order Pinales » Family Cupressaceae
DistributionThe native range is essentially just the Mountains and Piedmont. Though there are records for most or nearly all Coastal Plain counties, these generally represent planted, escaped, or otherwise naturalized individuals or populations. It is possible that many occurrences are from birds depositing seeds in habitats not considered to be typical. Sorrie has not seen any bona-fide natural occurrences in the Sandhills proper. **Note that records from coastal counties and Outer Banks probably all belong to the closely related Southern Red Cedar (J. salicicola); specimens merely labeled Juniperus virginiana need to be re-assessed.

The global range occurs over southeastern Canada and the entirety of the Eastern and Central states, west to Great Plains states. It is scarce as a native species in much or most of the Coastal Plain, however.
AbundanceCommon to very common in the Piedmont, and easily found there. It is generally common in the central and southern Mountains, and in the extreme western Coastal Plain; scarce in the northern Mountains. In most of the Coastal Plain and Sandhills proper it is rare or uncommon and of non-native or uncertain provenance. Some Sandhills and Coastal Plain records may be of persisting adults and locally established offspring.
HabitatThis is a widespread species of old fields, fencerows, and dry or rocky wooded areas (such as margins of flatrocks), typically as a successional species. It favors thin, high pH soil and is not characteristic of overly acidic soil. Thus, it is often found in pine woods or mixed pine hardwoods, and is a major component of Basic Oak-Hickory Forest and Xeric Hardpan Forests, over mafic rocks.
PhenologyMales shed pollen from February to April, and female cones mature in the first year, by October or November.
IdentificationThis is a very familiar evergreen tree, of small to medium stature, growing to about 50-60 feet tall and usually with a dense and conical/pyramidal form. Males and females are on different trees (i.e., dioecious). The familiar leaves are scales that tightly overlap, and which form sprays of leaves and branches that are not flattened into a single plane, as is found in the similar Atlantic White Cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides). This latter species has tight gray bark whereas Eastern Red Cedar has reddish-brown and shreddy bark. White Cedar also lacks the rounded blue “berries” that are frequently seen on the female Red Cedar trees. This species provides important cover and food for berry-eating birds in the colder months. Close to the coast, observers must be careful to separate it from the very similar Southern Red Cedar; that species has a rounded shape, with a wide and somewhat flattened crown, and its lower limbs droop and may reach the ground. More definitive (but often microscopic) characters are listed in Weakley (2020); see the J. silicicola account for these characters.
Taxonomic CommentsThere is much controversy about whether Southern Red Cedar (J. silicicola) is a good species or not. It has often been listed in references as a full species, such as in RAB (1968) and Weakley (2018); but many others, including NatureServe, consider Southern Red Cedar (J. virginiana var. silicicola) to be just a variety. Krings (2010) argues for lumping entirely.

Other Common Name(s)Red Cedar, Eastern Juniper, Red Juniper, and Virginia Juniper.
State RankS5
Global RankG5
State Status
US Status
USACE-agcpFACU link
USACE-empFACU link
County Map - click on a county to view source of record.
Photo Gallery
B.A. SorriePiedmont of Moore Co., Nov. 2015. MoorePhoto_natural
B.A. SorrieSame data.
B.A. SorrieRoadside edge of yard south of Whynot. Probably natural and predates the clearing.
Select a source
Select an occurrence type