black sparkle uggs an evergreen for everybody
It not often that you find a native plant in virtually every nursery you visit. Often (though less so in the last few years), when you ask for natives, mainstream nurseries will either look at you with a blank stare or just show you what they have without any real knowledge of whether it native or not.
Of course now you building up your own store of native knowledge, so even if they don know it native, you do. Fortunately, Arborvitae, or Northern Whitecedar (Thuja occidentalis), is one of the few Michigan native trees (besides oaks, maples and white pines) that you will find in virtually every local nursery. Of course, it will probably be a cultivar, but still, it a native. Let take a closer look at it.
The straight species of arborvitae is usually found as a small tree, mostly erect in habit, but can reach a height of 50 75 feet, with a spread of 35 to 50 feet given the right conditions and time. It has very dense, green foliage that remains so throughout the year, which makes it popular in shrub form, as a stand alone tree, or as a hedge, depending on the cultivar.’
In nature, arborvitae is often found in low, damp or mesic conditions and along lake edges, but it can also be found on open rocky hillsides that aren damp. According to the USDA website, it is native to the northeastern quarter of the continental United States and Canada and most Michigan counties, including Washtenaw. If you ever had the pleasure of riding your bike around Mackinac Island, you see it around almost the entire island. A plaque memorializes the scene.
Let get back to the details of this beauty. Aside from its lustrous green color, a feature of its foliage that I particularly like is its softness. Each is a flat, scale like frond that spreads out horizontally and is very pleasant to touch. The tree density provides good cover for wildlife, although it isn a major source of food for wildlife, according to “Native Trees, Shrubs and and Vines for Urban and Rural America” (Hightshoe). It has a moderate growth rate, and can live for up to 400 years. It is very sensitive to salt, so if you do want to include it in your landscape, make sure you don put it where salt spray can get to it.
As it is so prevalent, you might assume that Native Americans made great use of it, and you be correct. They used its lumber for canoe ribs and toboggans, its bark for a variety of medicinal purposes and its leaves for pillows and numerous other uses. You can check them out at the University of Michigan Dearborn Ethnobotany site. Even now, some people use it for homeopathic treatments.
Closeup of the soft foliage of Arborvitae
If you do want to add it to your yard, you can choose from cultivars such as mdiget for a little 3 foot ball of a shrub, or for a mid sized, narrowly pyramidal tree reaching 12 feet in height, or or for a taller, fuller tree that makes a great hedge. Of course, you can count on deer to sculpt them, as their soft foliage is a favorite forage of theirs. All in all, it a great, versatile species that makes a great addition to almost any yard. If you want to read some other interesting information about arborvitae, the Wikipedia entry is pretty fun reading.
It been awhile since I written, and, as you might guess, I got nada blooming in my yard, but it still a great time to get out and enjoy nature, especially a dense northern whitecedar swamp, so get out and find one!
Hi everyone, Thanks for your comments, everyone. Cash is right those wire maintenance folks are merciless when it comes to “maintaining” growth beneath their wires. Unless it obviously a short shrub, there a good chance they whack it without any sense of aesthetics, so choose short. As for why one side turns brown it could be windburn, or perhaps some salt spray. Tim is also right. deer browse range). The soft, green foliage is a favorite of them. Finally, Monica, I know what you mean. On the other hand, I have to believe that even the cultivars are better hosts for native insects than alien species. (See “Bringing Nature Home” by Douglas Tallamy for a full discussion of this). So, while the cultivars certainly may not truly resemble how the straight species might appear in nature, and shouldn be used for ecological restoration projects, I still think a native cultivar is better than nothing in a planted landscape (but use the straight species if you can you can get them from Wildtype Nursery in Macon, MI just don plant them beneath power lines. Rick