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Atlantic White Cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides) .

Aids to Identification: Atlantic white cedar is an evergreen tree, up to 25 m high, with small, scale-like leaves and characteristic cedar fragrance. Atlantic white cedar can be distinguished from northern white cedar, which is common and widespread in Maine, because the branchlets bearing the leaves are rounded, not flattened; by the bluish-green color of the foliage (as opposed to the yellowish-green of northern white cedar); and by the fruits which are small and spherical rather than elongate.

Photo: Atlantic White Cedar Leaves

Ecological characteristics: Grows in swamps, bogs, and fens chiefly on the coastal plains. In a typical Atlantic white cedar swamp, Atlantic white cedar forms a dense canopy that allows little light penetration and limits understory growth. Since Atlantic white cedar seedlings are relatively intolerant of shade, some forms of disturbance may be required to regenerate Atlantic white cedar.

Northern white cedar (left), Atlantic White Cedar (center), and Eastern Redcedar (Juniperus virginiana, right)

Phenology: Monoecious, but staminate and pistillate flowers are produced on separate shoots. Flowers in late spring and fruits in mid-autumn.


The Atlantic white cedar has fan-like sprays of scaly, flattened, green or bluish-green leaves. Young trees have needle-like leaves. The tree tapers to a point, giving it a cone-like shape. It has small, rounded, light blue cones and tiny, green or reddish-yellow flowers that appear in March-April. Its bark is reddish-brown. The Atlantic white cedar can grow to 75 feet tall.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Cones mature at the end of the first growing season, in September to October. During a good year, as many as 8 to 9 million seeds may be disbursed per acre in dense cedar stands. Each cone contains 5 to 15 winged seeds, which are spread by wind. Seeds can remain viable on the forest floor for many years. Seedlings grow into saplings at about one foot per year. Individual trees may live up to 1,000 years, but it is rare for stands to live longer than 200 years.

Did You Know?

  • Although it is called a cedar, the Atlantic white cedar is actually a cypress.
  • Its leaves are very aromatic, with a distinct, cedar-like scent.
  • Songbirds and white-tailed deer use Atlantic white cedars as food.
  • White cedar charcoal was used to make gunpowder during the Revolutionary War.