South Dakota Native Plant Research
Cupressaceae : Juniperus virginiana

Cupressaceae : Juniperus virginiana


Download Mature plant (7.5 MB)

Download Seed cones (827 KB)

Download Male cones (5.0 MB)

Download Leaves (1.3 MB)

Family Name


Common Name

Red cedar

Native American Name

Dakota: Hante, Hante sha; Lakota: ȟaŋté šá


Juniperus virginiana is a perennial, non-flowering, coniferous evergreen tree with a pyramidal or subcylindrical shaped crown, growing 5–20 m in height. The bark is reddish-brown to gray, fibrous and shredding as it ages. The younger branches are usually red. The adult leaves are green to blue green, tightly adpressed and scale-like, 2–4 mm long, 0.8-1.5 mm wide, arranged in opposite decussate pairs or occasionally whorls of three and overlapping the leaves above. Juvenile leaves are needle shaped, 5–11 mm long and are present on young trees and new branches. Red cedar is usually dioecious with male plants having yellowish-brown, sessile, solitary ovoid cones, 2.5-4 mm long, 1-2 mm in diameter, attached to the ends of branchlets. Female trees produce solitary, berry-like seed cones that are 3–7 mm in diameter, dark purplish-blue with a white waxy covering. These cones mature during the first year and contain 1-3 yellowish seeds. Cones shed pollen and are fertilized in April and May. Eastern red cedar is native to southern South Dakota, being found on pastures, prairie hillsides and disturbed ground. Because of its wide use in shelter belts, it has escaped and is naturalized throughout SD.

Additional Notes

Red cedar is a long-lived tree that is very adaptable to a wide range of soils and water availability. It spreads by seed, as birds eagerly consume the cones and deposit the seeds throughout the landscape. It will invade grasslands that are not maintained with fire.

Horticulture Notes

Seed Collection: Collect seed when the bluish-purple cones in early winter.

Germination: The seeds need a 90-day cold stratification before germination. Planting outside before the ground freezes will encourage germination. Germination rates are usually poor, so plant large numbers of seeds.

Vegetative Propagation: Cuttings taken in January and treated with rooting hormones have been reported to be successful.

Soils: Well drained gravelly soils or limestone-based soils are preferred, but trees can adapt to a wide range of soils.

Light: Full sun.

Water: Dry to mesic.

Cupressaceae : Juniperus virginiana