Arborvitae; The Tree of Life or at Least One of Them!

What do Harry Potter and Arborvitae have in common?

I swear I never heard of Arborvitae until this year, but when I stop to think about it, I believe we had some growing in our front yard until we took them out to change the landscape. They were annoying. The branches bent under heavy snow or ice. Arborvitae are native to the eastern United States and Canada where they may be called Eastern White Cedar or Northern White Cedar.

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Thuja occidentalis Brandon

Arborvitae means tree of life in Latin, but unfortunately, in common parlance, other varieties of trees are referred to as the tree of life. The baobab and coconut both may carry that appellation while a specific mesquite tree in Bahrain also is called that.

Thuja occidentalis may have been the first specimen tree to be transported and transplanted to Europe and has been grown there since the 1500s. It was given the name Tree of Life when Jacques Cartier learned from the Iroquois that a tea made from its leaves would cure his men of scurvy. There are five species in the genus, but only two of them are native to North America. The other three species are native to Asia.

Native Americans not only used the leaves for the nourishing tea, but as bedding, and the lumber was used as canoe frames. Many parts of the tree were used for other medicinal purposes, including as an abortifacient. Log cabins have been built from  larger specimens, partly due to the wood’s insulating properties and rot resistance. This last property also contributes to the wood’s use as fence posts. Arborvitae are important for wildlife as both a food source and shelter.

Although today this species is most often used in the landscape, it can be a long-lived tree with one of the oldest known thought to be over 1000 years. The Wintergreen Arborvitae variety seems especially well suited as a privacy screen while other varieties planted in a row are used for windbreaks.

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A lone Wintergreen Arbor Vitae

According to some sources, the tree has antibacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral components. Alternative medicine practitioners may suggest its use during radiation. An essential oil is made from its steam distillate, which is most commonly used to burn off warts. According to the site cited above, the essential oil is up to 65% thujone, Thujone, also a component of absinthe, is considered toxic and the use of the oil, especially ingested, is not recommended. Apparently thujone is mentioned in at least one of the Harry Potter books and caused quite a stir with the religious right!

Two of the three arborvitae in City Park are near each other. A94 Wintergreen Arborvitae  (Thuja occidentalis Hertz Wintergreen ) and B96 Techny Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis Techny) are located along Roosevelt Drive between Oak Street and City Park Drive. Both are in the field on the east side, across from the trolley station and tennis courts. The Wintergreen Arborvitae is closer to City Park Drive, near the tall conifers. The Techny is directly across from the trolley station.  

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Techny Arborvitae

The third tree, E62 Brandon Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis Brandon) is between the ditch and the miniature Train Station, just past the rock wall that runs along City Park Drive, across from Tico’s.

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Close up for the leaves on Thuja.

 

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The leaves of the three Arborvitae in City Park

 

 

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