Thuja occidentalis

Eastern arborvitae, Eastern White-Cedar, Northern White-Cedar, swamp-cedar, Atlantic red cedar

Description: evergreen tree

Place of origin: Eastern North America

Urban habitat: Found at lower elevations near streams or drainage areas, and at higher elevations in oil field areas, boulder fields and on limestone cliffs; tolerant of wide range of soil types

Ecological function: food and habitat for wildlife

History: The common name for Thuja occidentalis 'arborvitae' means "tree of life" and dates from the 16th century when the French explorer Cartier learned from Native Americans how to use the tree's foliage to treat scurvy due to its high concentration of vitamin C. It is purportedly the first North American tree introduced into Europe. Numerous eastern Native American tribes used this tree medicinally to treat rheumatism, colds, coughs, fevers, colic, skin irritations, menstrual disorders, toothache, headache, urinary disorders, and smallpox. The tree has also been used medicinally in homeopathic remedies for ailments of the skin, gastro-intestinal tract, kidney and brain and oil from its leaves is distilled and used in perfumes. Its rot- and termite-resistant wood is commonly used for products in contact with water and soil, such as fences, poles, shingles, paneling and boats. Hundreds of cultivars of Thuja occidentalis are used as ornamental trees and shrubs. The tree grows slowly and can live up to 400 years.