Cedar Trees & the “Lust for Life”

When I first bought this piece of land in Arkansas and dreamed of living in the woods, I named the land Cedar Hill in honor of an ancient cedar tree located near the well and chimney of the 1880s homestead. I imagined that this cedar tree had sheltered the people who built the cabin and dug that well. One of my friends informed me that her father always called cedar trees “trash trees”. That was over thirty years ago. I still remember her dismissive comment. Perhaps I had become tiresome in talking about my desire to move to Cedar Hill.

Even before we built our small deck from the local cedar, we had used standing dead cedar trees as posts inside the house. When we built our 20′ x 40′ house, we left a small volunteer cedar tree in the back yard. That vibrant tree has grown to shade the entire yard. Our outside shower hangs from her branches. Juncos, robins, bluejays and others nest in the branches–we watch them from the kitchen window. Sometimes in midwinter, I bring the evergreen boughs loaded with the plump blue clusters of berries inside to place on the mantel. This tree is our constant companion!

Lust for Life! Cedars grow from the Rocky Mountains across the continent to the ocean. Here in the Ozarks this juniper/cedar thrives! We can see cedar trees popping up along fences as well as large stands of closely spaced specimens. The twigs and foliage are eaten extensively by deer and cattle, but the chief attraction to wildlife is the bluish-black berry-like fruit. The trees offer shelter and safe nesting spots for birds and squirrels.

Juniperus virginiana is the formal Latin name for our cedar. I turned to the USDA website for a little more information(https://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/cs_juvi.pdf) “All of the native junipers are valuable ornamental species, and many horticultural varieties have been developed. Red cedar is widely used in shelterbelts and wildlife plantings. The close-grained, aromatic, and durable wood of junipers is used for furniture, interior paneling, novelties, and fence posts. The fruits and young branches contain aromatic oil that is used in medicines.”

When we built the deck, we had to remove the native Virginia Creeper vine which had climbed the wall over the front door. We did cut apart the upper branches, but carefully preserved the lower section while we worked on the deck. Once the deck was completed, we snaked the stalk of the vine out between the house and the long ramp. The vine appears next to the small ramp leading to the cat/dog door.
New Growth!
In the fall, after a long hot summer, we don’t often look for fresh new growth around us. I was delighted, last week, when I noticed the first hint of a green leaf unfolding on the Virginia Creeper vine we rescued. Today there are thirteen leaves emerging from the lower section of the vine. The base of the plant is tucked under the edge of the deck, but still gets water when it rains. We’ve been providing supplemental water, too, to encourage this new growth. As you can see in the picture to the left, this vigorous vine had traced its own path up the wall. I planted this Virginia Creeper vine well over a decade ago. Now we will see what new path the vines will create along the wall. The dark berries from Virginia Creeper are a favored food for a variety of birds. I find myself thinking that “trash” trees and even “weeds” are designations that tell me more about the speaker than about a plant or tree!
Certainly, I admire the “lust for life” I observe all around me! Even when the “weeds” overwhelm my sense of order, I see the life energy and the creative impulse of those plants. I find I need to absorb some of that energy to enrich my own life, so I keep admiring each example I see of a “lust for life”. Do you have any examples you’d like to share?

Graceful new growth for this Virginia Creeper vine!

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7 Responses to Cedar Trees & the “Lust for Life”

  1. Lila says:

    Our zinnias keep reseeding and coming up as volunteers every summer! They make a beautiful bed of light rusty orange color this time of year!
    I enjoyed hearing about your cedars! We have two with those blue berries,

    Yesterday ,at Crystal Bridges I saw a lovely golden yellow silk drape. It was dyed this color from the heart wood of the Osage Orange or Bois d’Arc tree! Another native plant!

    • Paula says:

      I’d like some of those zinnia seeds if you feel like collecting some as the flowers fade! Your mention of zinnias made me wonder where they are natives. According to Wikipedia, “Zinnia is a genus of plants of the sunflower tribe within the daisy family. They are native to scrub and dry grassland in an area stretching from the Southwestern United States to South America, with a center of diversity in Mexico.” Since northwest Arkansas is now home to a large population of armadillos also native to those areas, I am not surprised that zinnias thrive in our climate. Both could be considered “opportunistic survivors”!
      We have a plethora of Hedge apples (Osage Orange) ripening and falling out here this time of year. These trees were probably planted in the 1880s by the Mahaffey family who homesteaded here. I say that because the trees appear along a property line and Osage Orange trees were often planted as hedges along property lines here in Arkansas as well as in Kansas and in Missouri. My understanding is that Osage-orange trees were originally native “to a narrow belt in eastern Texas, southeastern Oklahoma, southwestern Arkansas, and the extreme northwest corner of Louisiana”, but people planted it in a much wider distribution. The wood is extremely hard and burns very hot–we first burned it in our vintage woodstove while living in Kansas. One day the fire got too hot for the stove–almost causing a fire. I did not know about its use as a dye plant–did you take a photo of that silk drape?
      Did you have any Osage Orange trees near you when you were a child living in Oklahoma?

      • Therese Ramsey says:

        Hi Paula,
        We had several Osage Orange trees in our backyard in Kansas. All those hedge apples were kind of a pain but oh how I enjoyed that color of green! Before that house was built, the land was farmland and even when we moved in there was grapevine growing next to the trees. I used it and made a wreath.

        • Paula says:

          I’m not surprised that the Osage Orange trees had survived the building process in your neighborhood in Overland Park. Those trees are quite adaptable to less than ideal growing conditions. I agree, the large “hedge apples” make a mess as they disintegrate, but that “spring green” color is luscious. And you did not even mention the potent thorns–no wonder these trees were grown as living cattle fencing in Kansas and Oklahoma. The intertwined grapevine would have made it even more usefule as a cattle barrier. Wish I’d seen your grapevine wreath.

  2. Lila says:

    I think I have a photo…. will email it to you!

  3. info says:

    To start, pick the best spot in your garden and order your cedar from The Tree Center. When your cedar arrives prepare a hole for it. You should make the hole slightly wider than the root ball and about one and a half times as deep. Straighten the roots of the tree and place it in the hole with the roots pointing down. Now pack the soil firmly around the roots until the tree is held in place. It’s important to fill the hole in tightly; if there’s any air space around the roots they’re likely to dry out and die. Don’t use a planting spike for cedars.

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