Northern White Cedar

Family: Cupressaceae
Latin Name: Thuja occidentalis
Common Name(s): Northern White Cedar, White Cedar, Arborvitae

Deciduous or Evergreen: Evergreen
Native Range: Southeastern Canada, New England, and Great Lakes region
USDA Hardiness Zone: 2-7
Mature Height: 20-40’
Mature Spread: 10-15’
Bloom Time: Non-flowering
Native to Minnesota: Yes
Shade Tolerant: Partial


Northern white cedar is a small to mid-sized tree of great local importance. Leaves are yellowish-green scales arranged in fan-shaped sprays. Cones are small and brown, resembling the cones of western red cedar (Thuja plicata). The bark is reddish-brown and relatively soft.

Northern White Cedar wood is lightweight and resistant to decay. It is commonly used for fence posts, cabin logs, and barrels. Its essential oils are used for cleansers, and the leaves, rich in Vitamin C, can be used to combat scurvy. Northern white cedar is also a very important tree in Ojibwe traditions, and has been used for centuries for food, medicine, and building material. The species is one of the four plants of the Ojibwe medicine wheel, along with tobacco, sage, and sweet grass. 

One of the oldest known northern white cedars in Minnesota was first described in 1731, and can still be found growing out of a cliff on Lake Superior. Northern white cedar was also one of the trees used in a recent litter decomposition study from the University of Minnesota.

This northern white cedar is located next to an eastern red cedar, with which it is commonly confused. Its scales are much softer and greener, and it does not make the berry-like cones of the neighbor.


Arborvitae leaf miner can damage leaf tips, and leaf blight can cause brown spots.

Other Resources:


Jewell et al. Paper