Giant arborvitae is a dense, stately evergreen tree native to the Pacific Northwest, often used as a specimen or for screening. The fresh green foliage consists of flat sprays formed by overlapping scales. The name "arborvitae," meaning "tree of life," comes from the belief that Native Americans used such trees for medicinal purposes. The tree supplies seeds and shelter for birds but is less appealing to deer. In nature, giant arborvitae can reach 70 feet in height, but they rarely are that tall in cultivation. There are many cultivars that vary in height and other characteristics. On some varieties, the foliage changes color in winter.
This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.
All common names:
- Residential and parks
Tree or Plant Type:
- Evergreen (foliage year-round)
- North America
- Large tree (more than 40 feet),
- medium tree (25-40 feet),
- Small tree (15-25 feet),
- Compact tree (10-15 feet),
- Large shrub (more than 8 feet),
- Medium shrub (5-8 feet)
- Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily),
- Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
- Zone 5 (Chicago),
- Zone 6,
- Zone 7
- Moist, well-drained soil
- Dry sites,
- Occasional drought,
- Wet sites,
- Alkaline soil
- Moderately Tolerant
- Moderately Tolerant
Seasons of Interest:
- early winter,
- late winter,
- early spring,
- mid spring,
- late spring,
- early summer,
- late summer,
- early fall,
- mid fall,
- late fall
Flower Color & Fragrance:
Shape or Form:
- Cavity-nesting birds,
- Small mammals
Tree & Plant Care
Foliage often changes color in winter.
Tolerant of alkaline and acid soils.
Best growth in full sun to part shade in well-drained, moist to dry soil.
Disease, pest, and problem resistance
This plant is not favored by deer.
Tolerant of black walnut toxicity.
Native geographic location and habitat
Forests of the Pacific Northwest of North America. In nature, it’s found on slopes, along stream banks, and in swampy areas.
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
Flat, spreading horizontal sprays of scale-like evergreen leaves are soft green.
Flower arrangement, shape and size
Inconspicuous, separate male and female flowers.
Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions
Tiny oval cones mature from green to brown.
Cultivars and their differences
Deer Proof™ giant arborvitae (Thuja plicata ‘KLMfive’): A tall, narrow, pyramidal tree, growing 40 to 50 feet high and 15 to 25 feet wide. It is a medium to fast grower with excellent cold hardiness. Loose, narrow habit with horizontal branching. Dark green foliage has yellow tips. Useful as specimen or hedge or in groupings or screens. Not favored by deer.
Excelsa giant arborvitae (Thuja plicata ‘Excelsa’): A pyramidal tree, growing 25 to 35 feet high and 10 to 15 feet wide. Loose habit with horizontal branching. Glossy, green foliage turns yellow-green in winter. useful as specimen, hedge, in groupings, or screens.
Green Giant arborvitae (Thuja ‘Green Giant’): A hybrid between T. plicata and T. standishii'. May grow up to 4o feet tall; maintains good green color in winter.
Hillier giant arborvitae (Thuja plicata ‘Hillieri’): Spreading form, growing 7 to 10 feet high and wide. The plant’s blue-green foliage turns bronze-brown in winter. Useful as specimen or for hedges, groupings, and screens.
Spring Grove® giant arborvitae (Thuja plicata ‘Grovepli’): 25 feet high by 8 feet wide; considered deer resistant.
Virescens giant arborvitae (Thuja plicata ‘Virescens’): A narrow, pyramidal small tree form growing 20 to 30 feet high and 10 to 20 feet wide. Foliage is glossy and bright green year-round. Useful as specimen or for hedges in formal and semi-formal plantings, groupings, and screens.