Atlantic Whitecedar

Atlantic white-cedar, hyphenated because it is not a true cedar, forms a pioneer community on peaty soil. It is likely the first tree to reinvade such sites following fire, hurricanes, or clearcutting. Always within 100 miles or so of the eastern coast and within 100 feet of sea level, the stands of dense slender stems with interlocking crowns lend an eerie stillness to the dark, dank swamps. The trees, seldom in mixtures with other species, mature at about 80 years of age. Doubted claims have been made that they reach 1000 years of age.

The durability of the heartwood is illustrated by the examples of trees windblown in the last century that were more recently "mined" from under the many years' accumulation of the peat that buried them.13 Under pond pine stands, too, white-cedar logs may be found in the debris, illustrating both the once-greater extent of white-cedar forests and ecological succession from this pioneer species to the serotinous pine.

White-cedar swamps, locally called glades (although Webster says glades are "open spaces surrounded by woods"), are generally acidic, often having a sour smell. A pH of 3.5 is not unusual.

Sometimes water stands above the ground in these peaty soils due to saturation of the sandy subsoils, the white-cedars enduring the chemically reduced soil conditions to the exclusion of the pines. In otherwise similar sites, but where the amount of finer soil particles—silts and clays—increases, white-cedar is replaced by many hardwood species and baldcypress. Stagnant water swamps are more likely to be covered with hardwoods, the white-cedar maintaining itself in oxygen-adequate freshwater.

Good moisture relations may require drainage. But drainage ditches should have control devices that enable the maintenance of proper water levels in the soil. Uncontrolled drainage in peat soils, where good regeneration usually occurs, for example, may lower water to critical levels. Mortality of the white-cedar seedlings is often high because of flooding and because of air pockets around roots when water subsides. On hummocks of drained peat, trees die during droughts of short duration.


The value of white-cedar wood is beginning to be realized and initial efforts are being made to regenerate these forests along the Atlantic seacoast. Nature will provide some able assistance. For instance, more than 2 million dormant seeds per acre may be found stored in the upper few inches of the organic mantle on the forest floor. Some seeds lose their germinative capacity, but not many, because delayed germination is common. Half of the crop of seeds may remain dormant the first year after the other half has germinated. On occasion, viability might be as low as 10%; equally often as many as 90% of the seeds in a crop might be healthy. So many seeds are stored in the organic duff that clumps of it can be removed and "planted" elsewhere to start a new stand of this species.

Once the seeds are sown, by nature or by man, successful establishment requires adequate moisture within reach of the short taproots arising from the small seeds. As such minute seeds have little stored starch for seedling food in the cotyledonous stage, favorable light and moisture are essential for successful stand establishment.

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