Eastern arborvitae

Dark green, flat leaflets of eastern arborvitae.

The eastern arborvitae is an extremely common evergreen tree or shrub, used often as a specimen, in hedges, or for privacy. The name "arborvitae," meaning "tree of life," because Native Americans reportedly used the tree for medicinal purposes. The small cones open up to look like small flowers and appeal to birds. In the forest, the tree can grow up to 50 feet high, but it rarely is that tall in cultivation. There are many cultivars that vary in height and other characteristics. 

This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.

This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.

Botanical name:

Thuja occidentalis

All Common Names:

Eastern arborvitae, Northern white cedar, Eastern white cedar, American arborvitae

Family (English):

Cypress

Family (Botanic):

Cupressaceae

Tree or Plant Type:

  • Shrub,
  • Tree

Foliage:

  • Evergreen (foliage year-round)

Native Locale:

  • Chicago area,
  • Illinois,
  • North America

Planting Site:

  • Residential and parks

Landscape Uses:

  • Foundation,
  • Hedge,
  • Massing,
  • Screen,
  • Specimen

Size Range:

  • Large tree (more than 40 feet),
  • Medium tree (25-40 feet),
  • Small tree (15-25 feet),
  • Compact tree (10-15 feet),
  • Medium shrub (5-8 feet),
  • Small shrub (3-5 feet),
  • Low-growing shrub (under 3 feet)

Mature Height:

40-60 feet

Mature Width:

10-15 feet

Light Exposure:

  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily),
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)

Hardiness Zones:

  • Zone 3,
  • Zone 4,
  • Zone 5 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7

Soil Preference:

  • Alkaline soil,
  • Moist, well-drained soil

Acid Soils:

  • Tolerant

Alkaline Soils:

  • Prefers

Salt Spray:

  • Moderately Tolerant

Soil Salt:

  • Tolerant

Drought Conditions:

  • Moderately Tolerant

Poor Drainage:

  • Moderately Tolerant

Season of Interest:

  • Early winter,
  • Mid winter,
  • Late winter,
  • Early spring,
  • Mid spring,
  • Late spring,
  • Early summer,
  • Mid summer,
  • Late summer,
  • Early fall,
  • Mid fall,
  • Late fall

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Inconspicuous

Shape or Form:

  • Mounded,
  • Narrow,
  • Pyramidal,
  • Round

Growth Rate:

  • Moderate

Transplants Well:

  • Yes

Wildlife:

  • Birds,
  • Browsers,
  • Small mammals

More Information:

Tree & Plant Care

Foliage tends to discolor in winter.  This species is tolerant of shearing.
Prefers consistent moisture but not wet soil.
Keep mulched to moderate soil temperature swings.
Best growth occurs in full sun to part shade.

Disease, pests, and problems

Can be affected by bagworm, leaf miner, spider mites, and deer browsing.
Susceptible to strong wind, snow, and ice damage.

Disease, pests, and problem resistance

Tolerant of black walnut toxicity.

Native geographic location and habitat

C-value: 10
Forests of Eastern North America.

Bark color and texture 

Grayish-brown to reddish-brown, with stringy fibers and a network of ridges and shallow furrows.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Needles are soft and green, with spreading flat sprays of overlapping scales at the ends of short, ascending branches.

Flower arrangement, shape and size

Inconspicuous, separate male and female flowers.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Tiny oval seed cones mature from yellow to light brown.  When cones open they look like little roses.

Cultivars and their differences

“These plants are cultivars of a species that is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research. Cultivars are plants produced in cultivation by selective breeding or via vegetative propagation from wild plants identified to have desirable traits."

Anna's Magic Ball Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Anna van Vloten’) is a dwarf cultivar, 12 to 18 inches high and wide, and globe shaped.  Foliage is golden.

Brabant Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Brabant’) has a narrow, spire-like form, 12 to 15 feet high and 3 to 4 feet wide.  It maintains good green color in winter.

Brandon Eastern arborvitae  (Thuja occidentalis ‘Brandon’) is another narrow cultivar, 12-15 feet high by 6 to 8 feet wide.  Foliage is resistant to winter burn.

Danica Easter arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Danica’) is a small, compact, ball-shaped shrub, growing 2 feet high and wide. Tolerates light shade and wet sites. Useful in foundation plantings, rock gardens, low hedges, or as accent plant.

Emerald Green Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd’) is a small tree with a narrow, pyramidal habit, growing 10 to 15 feet high and 3 to 4 feet wide. Retains green color in winter. Tolerates heat, cold, and wet sites. Useful as a specimen plant, in groups, or as a hedge.

Fire Chief™ Eastern Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Congabe’) is globe shaped and is only 4 feet high and wide at maturity.  Foliage is red-tipped.

Globosa Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Globosa’) is a medium-sized, broadly rounded shrub, growing 4 to 6 feet high and wide. Foliage may turn slightly gray-green in winter. Useful as foundation plantings and as a hedge or accent plant.

Golden Globe Eastern Arborvitae  (Thuja occidentalis ‘Golden Globe’) is a compact, ball-shaped shrub with yellow-green foliage. Can tolerate light shade and wet sites. Useful in foundation plantings, rock gardens or low hedges, or as accent plant.

Hetz' Midget Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Hetz' Midget’) is a low shrub form, growing 3 to 4 feet high and wide.  Useful in foundation plantings, rock gardens, low hedges, as accent plant, or in containers, though containers must be insulated to protect roots in winter.

Hetz' Wintergreen Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Hetz' Wintergreen’) is narrow and columnar, 20 to 30 feet high and 5 to 10 feet wide, with a central leader. Useful as a specimen or, in rows, for hedges, screens,  or windbreaks.

Holmstrup Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Holmstrup’) is a compact shrub with an upright habit, growing 6 to 8 feet high and 2 to 3 feet wide. Retains green color in winter. Tolerates poor drainage and alkaline soils. Deer resistant. Useful as a specimen plant, foundation plant, in groups, or as a low hedge.

Linesville Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Linesville’) is a very small, globe-shaped cultivar, growing 2 to 3 feet high and wide.

Mr. Bowling Ball Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Bobazam’) is a small, compact, rounded shrub, growing just 2 to 3 feet high and wide. Dense, fine, soft, scale-like, gray-green foliage. Useful in foundation plantings or rock gardens, as an accent plant or in containers, though container must be insulated to protect roots in winter.

Nigra Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Nigra’) has dark green foliage that persists all winter. Narrow and pyramidal, growing 25 to 30  feet high and 5 to 8 feet wide. Tolerates temporary flooding, heat and drought once established.  Exceptionally cold-hardy. Useful as a specimen or accent or in groups as a hedge, screen, or windbreak.

North Pole® Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Art Boe’) has a narrow, upright habit , 12 to 15 feet high and 3 to 5 feet wide.

Pyramidalis Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Pyramidalis’) is a tall, narrow, pyramidal tree, growing 20 to 30 feet high and 5 to 8 feet wide. Requires moist soil and tolerates temporary dry to wet sites, but does not tolerate drought. May suffer from winter burn if not sheltered from strong winds.

Technito® Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘BailJohn’) is a compact cultivar, 8 to 10 feet high and 4 to 5 feet wide, maintains good color in winter.

Techny Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Techny’) is a broadly pyramidal small tree or large shrub, growing 10 to 15 feet tall and 12 to 18 feet wide. Dark green doliage retains color in winter. Extremely cold hardy and tolerant of alkaline soils. Useful as a specimen plant, in groups or screens, or as a hedge.  Also sold under the name 'Mission'.

Wareana Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Wareana’) is broadly pyramidal and rounding with age, growing 8 to 10 feet high and 6 to 8 feet wide. The leathery foliage is tinged with blue. Tolerates wet soil and is cold hardy. Useful as a specimen or accent, good for hedges and also for foundation plantings.

Woodwardii Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Woodwardii’) is a rounded shrub form, growing 3 to 6 feet high and wide. Dense, soft, scale-like, green foliage. Tolerates light shade and wet sites. Useful as a specimen or in groups.

Location of Thuja occidentalis (Eastern arborvitae) at the Arboretum