December 11, 2020
Not too long ago, cedar trees were just about the only holiday tree around



By Mary Reid Barrow


It’s hard to believe in these days of immaculately decorated holiday trees–many fake and perfect—that Virginia cedars were once the tree of choice for Christmas.

I grew up in Richmond and we  always  decorated a cedar for the holidays that my father cut down every year on the family farm. Sometimes he would bring back several trees for the neighbors too. Cedars also were about the only tree for sale on the corner Christmas tree lots.

But cedars  were a bear to decorate with all those prickly needles and slender branches that drooped with every ornament that weighed the least bit.  When it was decorated, the cedar became one big silver tinsel tree.  Tinsel, which has just about gone by the wayside like cedars,  covered up  a myriad decorating obstacles  that cedars posed .

On the other hand cedars brought that true cedar-y aroma of winter and the holidays into the house.  The trees were always fresh, lasted a long time. and didn’t drop needles, only tinsel.

And sometimes they even came with their own decorations. The female cedar’s cones look like beautiful little blue berries. And  male cedars often get a golden tinge on their needles that is  part of their bloom.

Cedars also come in very natural holiday tree shapes when they grow up out in the open.  Check out some pretty cedar trees planted  in the median along the feeder road at the North End and picture them as Christmas trees. You’ll see tall ones, short ones and squat ones.

In this day and time, about the only way to find a cedar for Christmas is to own a farm or know a farmer. Prettily shaped cedars often spring up along farm fence rows where birds have dropped the seeds and the trees can grow unimpeded by other trees and get plenty of light.

Christmas trees are really the least of what  this Virginia native ( Juniperus virginiana) gives to us. Its strong red heartwood, from which it got its other common name of red cedar,  makes long lasting fence posts and cabinets

That wonderful  cedar-y smell just happens to repel insects and that’s why cedar closets and cedar chests really do work.  Not to mention that those pretty blue berries infuse gin with its medicinal taste.

Last but not least, in winter, birds like cedar waxwings, love those berries too. Then the birds  bring the story of cedar full circle.

They perch on the strong cedar fences in the country and drop the seeds, which in turn still grow up to be Christmas trees, would anyone ever want one again.

 Do you have a favorite tree or plant with a story to tell?  What relationships have you observed  between plants and critters?  Who eats whom?  Who has babies where?   Send an email to


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