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Northern White Cedar stands against a white background, while a little bit of grass surrounds its base
Northern white-cedar branch isolated on white background stock photo

(Thuja occidentalis)

This tree is easy to identify. It grows nearly everywhere in Wisconsin, except the southwest. Look for small, flat branches with close-knit, scale-like leaves. It also grows as a compact tree with lots of branches like a thicket (thick bush). The leaves of this tree give off a pleasant aromatic scent when you crush them between your fingers. Many people like to have ornamental varieties of the "arbor vitae" (French word meaning tree of life) in their yard. A row of these trees acts as a natural fence because the branches grow so thick.

Deer love to browse on this evergreen in the winter when food is scarce. Porcupines eat the thin cedar stems as a tasty snack and red squirrels nibble on the buds. Pileated woodpeckers will excavate large, oval holes in the sides of the white cedar in search of carpenter ants.

The cone, or fruit, is small (1/3-1/2 inches long) and oval. It is yellowish-brown with 6-12 scales and grows alone or in clusters on the end of the branch. The seeds are about 1/8 of an inch long and have two narrow wings almost circling the seed. The bark is thin with a gray or reddish-brown color that grows in long, vertical, narrow shreddy strips. People use the light, soft and brittle wood for making fence posts, building poles, rot-resistant lumber, and shingles for buildings.