The WALA Plant Library
American Arborvitae

Synonyms for American Arborvitae: Eastern White Cedar, Northern White Cedar, Arborvitae, Swamp Cedar
Scientific Name: Thuja occidentalis L.
Family: Cupressaceae (Cypress Family)


Who would have thought that the thick garden hedge that protects our privacy not only keeps out prying eyes but also has potent medicinal properties? The dense, evergreen arborvitae can reach a height of up to 30 meters and can be trimmed into any shape desired. Because of its scale-like leaves it looks like a conifer from the distance, an impression reinforced by the smooth cone-like, yellowish-brown fruits sitting on the tips of the branches. The fruits clearly distinguish Thuja occidentalis from the related species Thuja orientalis which has winged fruits. The separate male (catkins) and female (yellowish-green, star-shaped) flowers appear in April to May. Pollination is brought about by the wind. The tips of the leaves contain special glands in which the plant stores essential oil. If you rub a leaf between your fingers the oil is released and you can smell its pungent odour. Thuja likes moist, cool soils and, under optimal conditions, it can become 400 years old.