Between Christmas trees and Christmas spirits, when we sing of a “Partridge in a pear tree”, we owe thanks to the EASTERN REDCEDAR, Juniperus virginiana. Here are 10 fun facts to remind of us to appreciate our Southern Christmas tree:
1. Each year, Athens Clarke County selects an eastern redcedar to be the downtown Christmas tree in front of the courthouse. Local, private property owners offer their tree and the county cuts it and hauls it downtown to be lit during the Parade of Lights.
2. Of the most popular Christmas Tree species, eastern redcedar is one of the few that grows natively in our region. It is certainly the most prolific.
3. Eastern redcedar is NOT actually a cedar. It’s scientific name, Juniperus virginiana, betrays that it is actually a Juniper.
4. Some English versions of the ”12 days of Christmas” have a juniper tree instead of a pear tree. It has been observed that both may be derived from the from the Old French word perdriz, which means partridge, but sounds like pear tree in English. Joli perdriz means pretty partridge, but might sound like juniper tree in English.
5. Junipers provide good cover and food for partridges. In the US, eastern redcedar provides good nesting and roosting cover for waxwings, bobwhite, quail, ruffed grouse, pheasant and wild turkeys. They also eat the fruits which are high in crude fat and crude fiber, moderate in calcium, and very high in total carbohydrates.
6. The berries of eastern redcedar are actually a cone with soft scales that have coalesced to be like the skin of a fruit. According to eattheweeds.com, the berries can be used to flavor wild meat, gin, and the French liqueur, Chartreuse.
7. The capital of Louisiana, Baton Rouge, which can be translated as “red stick”, is named after eastern redcedar.
8. According to northernwoodlands.org, “The uniform, fine-grained heartwood is among the few woods that cooperate when put into a pencil sharpener and many millions of pencils have been made from eastern redcedar. Only the clearest, knot-free sections of heartwood are suitable for pencils, and most of the wood that heads off to a pencil factory is wasted. The supply of eastern redcedar was much diminished by the 1940s, and now most pencils are made from incense-cedar, a western species.”
9. Eastern redcedar oils have been known to deter moths in the same way as mothballs, they are used in perfumes, and they are used in medicines. Green Deane at eattheweeds.com wrote, ”[Florida’s Seminole Indians] used it to treat cold symptoms, swollen joints, stiff neck or back, swollen legs, eye diseases, fever, headache, dizziness and diarrhea.”
10. Cedar-apple rust is a dual host fungus that requires both eastern redcedar and apple trees to propagate in our part of Georgia. Some apple farmers have been known to cut down every redcedar within a football field’s distance of their orchard. To complicate things, however, birds reduce insect pests in orchards, and eastern redcedar is an important host for birds.