The Eastern redcedar menace

Eastern Redcedar
Eastern Redcedar

Sounds like a 50’s B-movie just in time for Halloween.

In my wildfires post, I discussed the fire danger posed by cedars and promised you more information. Not long ago, like most rural residents, I considered cedar trees to be weeds that appeared on my acreage and in my flower beds. Irritating, but not dangerous. I changed my mind when I realized how invasive they are.

The Oklahoma Redcedar Task Force was formed in 2001 to come up with some solutions to this ever growing problem (pun intended.)

Per the task force’s report published in 2002, although there are five different native junipers in Oklahoma, the one causing most of the problems is the eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana.) The other natives are Ashe juniper (Juniperus ashei), oneseed juniper (Juniperus monosperma), Pinchot juniper (Juniperus pinchotii) and Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum.)

As gardeners living in a dry state, we’re always thinking about drought tolerant native plants. We’ve embraced gallardias and bluestem grasses, but native isn’t always a good thing. Cedars suck. Literally. In the summer, a mature redcedar consumes up to 30 gallons of water a day. That water is diverted from hardwood trees like oaks because cedars sprout underneath the hardwood’s canopy, and later, starve it of water.

Redcedar smothering an Oak tree
Redcedar smothering an Oak tree

But, why you ask, is a native plant so out of control? It’s the lack of fire. Being a child of the 60’s, I am a Smoky the Bear fan, but the Great Plains were always prone to fire. Lightning strikes and controlled burning by Native American tribes kept the cedars in check. When Oklahoma was opened for pioneer settlement in 1889, land use was changed, and fire, which controlled the cedars, was nearly stopped. We created the perfect environment for cedar encroachment.

According to the task force, by “. . . 2013, 12.6 million acres will be infested with at least 50 trees per acre, and 8 million acres will be covered with at least 250 trees per acre, creating a 74% loss of native prairies, shrublands, cross timbers forests and other forested ecosystems (Oklahoma State University Rangeland Ecology and Management 2001).”

If all of this isn’t enough reason to grab a chain saw and get after it, there are two other reasons I hate cedars. They carry the spores of cedar apple rust, and I have five apple trees. I’ve planted disease resistant varieties like Enterprise and Liberty, but they still suffer. I’m also really allergic to cedar pollen.

But all is not lost. Since the report was published in 2002, there has been some improvement. The Aromatic Cedar Association was created “to provide information regarding the management and utilization of “aromatic cedar” . . . “[to] connect businesses, individuals and government agencies together to promote and develop the eastern redcedar industry.” The redcedar industry has sprung up much like the trees themselves. Trees are now harvested and used for cedar oil, fence posts and lumber. Other entrepeneurs have improved devices to rid farmers and ranchers of the trees.

Two brothers from Hinton created their own saw for tree removal after the one they used was inadequate. Their invention, the Dougherty Tree Saw, won a 2004 Journal Record Innovator of the Year award. I’m impressed.

Word is beginning to get out about the cedar menace, and you, dear reader, are instrumental in spreading the news. So, get out there, and let others know that if they’re not vigilant, a cedar tree may soon be marching toward you. Just like in the movies.

11 Replies to “The Eastern redcedar menace”

  1. Wow, so few locals are well-informed on the scourge of the red cedar. I would like to give you some kind of Oklahoman of the Year award for your awesome blog and the responsibility you take with it. If only I could.

    I’ve only been back in Oklahoma for a few months after 20+ years away. I love finding Oklahomans who live and think out of the box. I found you today in a Sydney, Australia blog – you do get around.

    Just when I got the hang of high-desert gardening after 15 years in Santa Fe — I am now out of my element. I come from a gardening family – P. Allen Smith is my cousin. I think your blog might be better though! I am trying my hand at mostly natives this first year – I am a little impatient though.

    TR, gosh!! Such kind words. I thank you. I started this blog because it is such a challenge to garden here. When I began gardening, I was frustrated by the information I read. I love our diverse climate. Welcome back. Santa Fe is one of my favorite places in the U.S. P. Allen Smith is your cousin? Wow. I like his writing, but he gardens in a totally different area. His advice doesn’t work for me, but I enjoy the photos.~~Dee

  2. You really helped me understand about this cedar problem. I have seen them go up in flames, and know they’re dangerous, but I had no idea they were actually such water hogs. Out with them!

  3. Hi Annie,

    I really like your blog. I love the idea that you’ve managed to garden in a new climate.

    Welcome and please stop by again.

    Dee

  4. Hello Dee,

    Your comment at Pam’s blog brought me here, to see what you had to say about cedars. My goodness- thank you for linking to me!

    My land is barely 1/4 of an acre, and I haven’t noticed juniper/cedars in this neighborhood, but they covered the canyons near my last Austin house. We found out about cedar fever soon after we moved here and then learned about the enormous amounts of water they draw from the soil. There’s been some press coverage of the amazing change wrought by cutting the junipers/cedars on the Selah-Bamberger Ranch.

    I went to the Dougherty tree saw website and watched their video – the way it cuts the trunk below ground was impressive.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  5. Hi Pam,

    Between Edmond and Guthrie, just as the prairie turns into the deciduous forest. I live in the rolling hills in a log house. I’m going to do a second page which gives a little more information. I just haven’t had time yet. BTW, I love your site. Very nice.

    Dee

  6. Hi, Dee. Now I see why you liked the cedar-log bridge I posted about. 😉 We have an abundance of cedar (Ashe juniper) here in Austin too, and while I like the sight and smell of them, they cause tremendous allergy problems for many folks, myself included, starting around Xmas. I’ll be reaching for the allergy meds soon.

    I was born in OK and have family in OK City and Tulsa still. What part of the state do you garden in?

  7. Hi,

    What a great article.

    Cedars are a problem to Oklahoma parries and do need to be dealt with. Good to hear something is being done to control them.

    Curtis from Growing Thumbs

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