Identify the Trees in the Cedar Family

Trees in the Cedar Family, With Many Exceptions

eastern red cedar
Eastern red cedar (Juniper Juniperus virginiana) in its characteristic shape near Oxford, OH.

Greg Hume/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Cedar (Cedrus), also called "true" cedar, is a coniferous genus and species of trees in the plant family Pinaceae. They are most closely related to the Firs (Abies), sharing a very similar cone structure. Most true, old-world cedars seen in North America are ornamentals.

These conifers are not native and for the most part have not naturalized to North America. The most common of these you will see are Cedar of Lebanon, deodar cedar, and Atlas cedar. Their native habitats are on the other side of the planet — in Mediterranean and Himalayan regions.

The Common North American "Cedars"

This group of conifers, for the sake of taxonomy and easier identification, are considered cedars. The genus Thuja, Chamaecyparis, and Juniperus are included because of their confusing common names and botanical similarity. Still, they are not taxonomically true cedars.

The Common North American "Cedars"

Major Characteristics of the Cedars

Cedars have very typical "scale-like" leaves that can grow on flattened sprays or all around the twig. These small leaves are persistent, decussate, less than 1/2 inch and can be prickly on some species.

Cedar bark is often reddish, peeling and vertically furrowed. When considering both our native "cedars" and "old world" cedar, bark identification should be confirmed by using other botanical characteristics.

Cedars have "cones" that can be variable in size, some are woody while others are more fleshy and berry-like. The cones can be oblong to bell-shaped to rounded but typically are less than one inch in size.