Many Americans continue the European tradition of the Christmas tree. In Europe, people used spruces and firs to decorate their homes. This week on Discover Nature we look for another Missouri evergreen: the Eastern Red Cedar.
In much of the Eastern United States, red cedar, a kind of juniper, is a common native evergreen. Its prickly, scale-like leaves are quite different from those of spruce, fir or pine.
It’s conical shape and spicy aroma make cedar a yuletide choice. Most red cedars don't end up as Christmas trees. Those that stay outside add green to winter's landscape. Cedar branches can be loaded with blue berries from fall through winter. These berries attract living ornaments in the form of robins, bluebirds and cedar waxwings. Scores of these birds sometimes feast on a cedar, gorging themselves on the high-energy fruit.
Cedars are especially beautiful when draped with new-fallen snow. Their dense branches shelter birds at night and during storms and protect deer and rabbits from energy-sapping winds. Come spring, mockingbirds, robins and mourning doves will seek these same protective branches for their nests.
December is a good time to consider the Eastern Red Cedar, sharing its gifts with both people and wild creatures.
Discover Nature is sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation.