Environment Planet Earth How to Manage and Identify Arborvitae By Steve Nix Steve Nix Writer University of Georgia Steve Nix is a member of the Society of American Foresters and a former forest resources analyst for the state of Alabama. Learn about our editorial process Updated April 16, 2017 Share Twitter Pinterest Email (Joshua Mayer/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0) Environment Weather Outdoors Conservation White-cedar is a slow-growing tree that reaches 25 to 40 feet in height and spreads to about 10 to 12 feet wide, preferring a wet or moist, rich soil. Transplanting is fairly easy and is a popular yard specimen in the United States. Arborvitae likes high humidity and tolerates wet soils and some drought. The foliage turns brownish in winter, especially on cultivars with colored foliage and on exposed sites open to the wind. Specifics Scientific name: Thuja occidentalisPronunciation: THOO-yuh ock-sih-den-TAY-lissCommon name(s): White-Cedar, Arborvitae, Northern White-CedarFamily: CupressaceaeUSDA hardiness zones: USDA hardiness zones: 2 through 7Origin: native to North AmericaUses: hedge; recommended for buffer strips around parking lots or for median strip plantings in the highway; reclamation plant; screen; specimen; no proven urban tolerance Cultivars White-Cedar has many cultivars, many of which are shrubs. Popular cultivars include: ‘Booth Globe;’ ‘Compacta;’ ‘Douglasi Pyramidalis;’ ‘Emerald Green’ - good winter color; ‘Ericoides;' ‘Fastigiata;' ‘Hetz Junior;’ ‘Hetz Midget’ - slow growing dwarf; ‘Hovey;’ ‘Little Champion’ - globe shaped; ‘Lutea’ - yellow foliage; ‘Nigra’ - dark green foliage in winter, pyramidal; ‘Pyramidalis’ - narrow pyramidal form; ‘Rosenthalli;’ ‘Techny;’ ‘Umbraculifera’ - flat topped; ‘Wareana;’ ‘Woodwardii’ Description Height: 25 to 40 feetSpread: 10 to 12 feetCrown uniformity: symmetrical canopy with a regular (or smooth) outline, and individuals have more or less identical crown formsCrown shape: pyramidalCrown density: denseGrowth rate: slowTexture: fine History The name arborvitae or "tree of life" dates from the 16th century when the French explorer Cartier learned from the Indians how to use the tree's foliage to treat scurvy. A record tree in Michigan measures 175 cm (69 in) in d.b.h. and 34 m (113 ft) in height. The rot- and termite-resistant wood is used principally for products in contact with water and soil. Trunk and Branches Trunk/bark/branches: grow mostly upright and will not droop; not particularly showy; should be grown with a single leader; no thornsPruning requirement: needs little pruning to develop a strong structureBreakage: resistantCurrent year twig color: brown; greenCurrent year twig thickness: thinWood specific gravity: 0.31 Culture Light requirement: tree grows in part shade/part sun; tree grows in full sunSoil tolerances: clay; loam; sand; slightly alkaline; acidic; extended flooding; well-drainedDrought tolerance: moderateAerosol salt tolerance: lowSoil salt tolerance: moderate Bottom Line Northern white-cedar is a slow growing native North American boreal tree. Arborvitae is its cultivated name and commercially sold and planted in yards throughout the United States. The tree is identified primarily by unique flat and filigree sprays made up of tiny, scaly leaves. The tree loves limestone areas and can take full sun to light shade.Best used as a screen or hedge planted on 8 to 10- foot-centers. There are better specimen plants but it can be placed at the corner of a building or other area to soften a view. Many of the natural stands in the United States have been cut. Some remain in isolated areas along rivers throughout the East.