Friday, June 7, 2013

sweet cedar

Known as Chansha or "redwood" by the Native American Lakota, it’s pretty hard to go anywhere in the Tennessee Valley and not encounter an eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana).

In the Great Smokies, where the soil is acidic, cedars are virtually nonexistent. But here in the valley where the limestone bedrock weathers to yield sweet, alkaline soil, cedars are ubiquitous.

Cedars thrive in that limey sweetness. As the great tree chronicler Donald Culross Peattie once wrote, “No stone-walled hilltop too bleak, no abandoned field too thin of soil but that the dark and resolute figure of a Red Cedar may take its stand there, enduring, with luck, perhaps three centuries.”

Indeed. Often overlooked because they are so banal, don’t let that commonness dull your senses. They are simply grand, aromatic trees. 

At this time of the year, the female cedars develop a lovely glaucous hue from their tiny bluish "berries," a favorite food of birds such as cedar waxwings, hence their name. The fruits are not true berries but rather coniferous seed cones with unusually fleshy and merged scales, which give it a berry-like appearance.

Cedars can be found along the eastern border of Ijams Nature Center and at Mead's Quarry where the soil is crumbly sweet.

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