Kentucky: Red Cedar’s Migration North

Years ago I fell in love with a Kentucky girl, and then I fell in love
with the red cedar trees that adorned (or scourged, depending on one’s
view) her family’s farm. When Carol and I married and moved north, to
Ohio, we brought some red cedars along so that something in our farm
landscape would remind her of home. The trees were already headed
north anyway, the seed carried by birds which love the berries. Her
brother, who had an orchard on their home farm, almost threw a fit.

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Being a pioneer tree, red cedar, which is really a juniper (junipera
virginianus), spreads quickly on cleared land and then gives way in a
century or so to hardwoods that eventually grow up and shade it out.
That is why there are so many red cedars in the mid-south. They are
retaking abandoned farm land or where hardwood forests have been cut
over, just as nature intends them to do. He protested that red cedar
is a host for apple cedar rust which is harmful to apple trees,
especially yellow varieties.

I countered that his orchard was
surrounded, literally, by red cedar trees, and he still got tons of
apples including yellow ones, so what’s the big deal. In the end, he
shrugged at my contrariness and helped me dig up some seedlings to
take north. As he finally admitted, he thought the pesky tree was
pretty too. That was over thirty years ago. Today our little farm’s
fence rows are lined with red cedars twenty feet or more in height.
Although the trees are spreading like weeds wherever left undisturbed,
just as they do in Kentucky, I am discovering so many advantages from
them that I am for once glad for being contrary. So far, we have had
no trouble with cedar apple rust on our apple trees. Perhaps I am just

Talking to orchardists, however, I don’t find anyone very
concerned about the disease. Some apple and crab varieties, Red
Delicious especially, are almost immune to it. (You can google cedar
apple rust and find out more than you ever wanted to know about
controlling it.) The fungus is easy to identify on red cedar because
it appears as a bright orange cluster of gelatinous spaghetti-like
efflorescences. Quite attractive unless you grow apples for a living.
In the meantime they provide wonderful wildlife cover, erosion
control, a good winter food supply as well as nesting sites for birds,
and fairly good fence posts. At least twenty species of birds feast
on the berries. On our farm, bluebirds, which used to migrate south
for the winter, now stick around and seem to get along quite well on
those berries and those of a far worse weed pest, multi-flora rose.

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Comments (2)

darrell harrisAugust 31st, 2009 at 5:02 pm

I feel our cedar trees are overlooked as to their natural beauty.When I am driving on our roads the cedars ad so much to the natural beauty.

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