Eastern redcedar

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Eastern redcedar, not a true cedar but a juniper, predominates in part of the Ozark Highlands of Arkansas and the glades of the Nashville Basin in central Tennessee. The Cedar Brakes of central Texas consist of closely related species, Ashe and Pinchot junipers. These Juniperus species are among the most alkali-tolerant of drought-hardy trees.27

Eastern redcedar is of course not limited to these calcareous outcrop areas. It occurs in the dominant canopy and in the understory of almost every southern forest-cover type. Remnant stems in old stands may reach 16 inches dbh and a height of 70 feet in the span of a century. Horticultural forms, in contrast, grow faster. From some of these 30 or so landscape varieties, escapes appear in the woods. Much diversity among trees of this species occurs in form, foliage color, foliage character, and cones.

Every First Class Boy Scout knows that redcedar bark is flammable and easily ignited, serving as excellent tinder for starting fires with flint and steel. Even "cool" prescribed fire cooks the cambium under the thin shredding bark. Ready ignition of the bark and the tree's resinous foliage effectively enable fire to negatively govern distribution of the species. On rough, stony land, these evergreens escape serious fire injury, which often occurs in pure stands because ground vegetation is too scarce to supply adequate fuel. Litter under crowns is not highly flammable because it readily decomposes as it quickly absorbs ground moisture.

Ecological Succession

Seedlings appear as advance reproduction, especially in forests with partial openings. Where seed-tree cutting, clearcutting, or forest-destructive catastrophes have occurred, even-aged stands result.

However, seeds must be available at the time the site is ready to receive them. Abundant seed crops develop every two or three years.

Cedar glades in the Nashville Basin and its highland rims now are of negligible value for production of the aromatic chest and closet wood that once made the tree economically important. In the Basin, new seedlings arise in the cracks and sink holes of soft limestone rocks, such depressions and vertical fissures affording subterranean drainage that provides water and nutrients for the roots. As these crevices widen and fill with soil to give the appearance of alternating strips of rock and earth, other species like elm and hackberry enter the plant community. Limestone soils on which pure stands of redcedars occur are generally shallow, while deeper soils—even when formed from the same material—are more intensely leached of calcium and thus more acidic. Other species usually prevail in the deeper soils.

On better-quality sites, fire exclusion is essential if reproduction of eastern redcedar is to be established and the stands grow to maturity. Inherent characteristics of the species enable its continuation on dry lands, frequently where other trees do not survive. A fibrous and shallow root system absorbs sufficient moisture and nutrients for sustenance. Often considered drought-resistant, growth appears best on well-drained alluvial soils and in uplands with soil at least two feet deep.

Figure 3.8 A young stand of eastern redcedar. These open-grown stems when 14 inches dbh will yield marketable cedar oil, used in insecticides and microbial disinfectants. However, the volume—because it comes from sapwood—will be but 1/10 that of forest-grown stems of the same size. Oil from the latter will be from older stems, and, therefore, from heartwood. Value will be about three times that of the sapwood of open-grown trees.

Figure 3.8 A young stand of eastern redcedar. These open-grown stems when 14 inches dbh will yield marketable cedar oil, used in insecticides and microbial disinfectants. However, the volume—because it comes from sapwood—will be but 1/10 that of forest-grown stems of the same size. Oil from the latter will be from older stems, and, therefore, from heartwood. Value will be about three times that of the sapwood of open-grown trees.

A near pioneer in ecological succession, especially in the calcareous Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee, redcedar seedlings' establishment is preceded by only a few herbaceous plants like broomsedge. Bird droppings are a principal dispenser of redcedar seeds.

Eastern redcedar, a heliophyte, requires full sunlight, particularly in its early years. Thick foliage on the periphery of the exposed crown and the absence of foliage beneath the tree's own canopy or where it is shaded from the sun attest to this. Yet, young trees often appear more shade-tolerant than older ones. In glade communities, formerly suppressed redcedar trees rebound to some degree of vigor as broadleaf stems pass from the overstory. Nonflowering bryophytes (mosses) and woody shrubs accompany these junipers in their early life.

Colonization of southern pastures with eastern redcedar peaks about 10 years after range managers and farmers remove cattle from the field. Several factors, including the greater abundance of avian perching sites and seed sources, encourage seed germination and seedling establishment.28 Ecological succession on calcareous sites generally occurs like this:

• Timber harvest or agricultural lands are abandoned.

• Herbaceous plants (grasses and forbs) appear.

• Redcedar and woody shrubs invade.

• Broadleaf trees capture the site.

• The stand opens as many deciduous trees pass from the scene.

• Herbaceous cover returns where adequate sunlight reaches the ground.

• Oak and hickory trees compose the climax forest type.

• The climax forest is removed by harvest, storm, or fire.

• Birds plant a new stand of redcedar.

Avian Relationship—One notes the activity of birds in relation to this species by the straight rows of redcedar trees beneath utility lines and wire fences. The berry-like seeds (botanically speaking, the trees produce cones) are ingested by birds. Within the gizzard, seed coats are scratched; within the stomach they are softened by digestive acids. Upon being disgorged by the birds, the naturally processed seeds, high in crude fat and fiber, germinate and seedlings promptly arise.

Robins and waxwings are especially fond of redcedar seeds. A Bohemian waxwing was noted to have consumed and discharged 900 berries in 5 hours. In one Tennessee glade, robins have a winter haven. There, birds may get drunk from eating the fermented fruit of the trees. Stands of redcedars provide favorite habitat for mourning doves.29

Not only birds among the animal kingdom are responsible for preparing seeds for germination. A herd of cattle on a drive from the Texas Cedar Brakes of the Hill Country into Kansas stockyards gave rise, through manure droppings, to a small stand of junipers in a treeless prairie. Seeds, their coats scarified and softened, germinated the spring following their dropping to the ground. Other seeds remained stored in the duff on the soil surface, awaiting the second spring to germinate.

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