Fruit still is available on red cedar trees, and flocks of cedar waxwings are on the lookout.
They eat a variety of winter fruits, such as the small crabapples in our yards, but seem to be especially fond of the berries of red cedar (from which part of the bird’s name derives). Each “berry” about a quarter-inch in diameter is actually a cone like those of other conifers, except that they never open and contain two or three seeds that are distributed by the birds as they eat the fleshy fruit.
The eastern red cedar is a native evergreen in the southern two-thirds of Minnesota. It is tolerant of many soil types and grows abundantly, even on dry, gravelly slopes. It has two types of small leaves: needlelike on young trees and new twigs, and blunt scale-like adult leaves. The foliage is dark green in summer. It turns dark maroon during winter.
These trees seldom grow more than 40 feet in Minnesota. In southeast states this species may reach a height of 100 feet, and live for three centuries. They are often used for screen plantings and on highway slopes.
The red cedar is widely known for its extreme tolerance to drought, and for its decay-resistant wood. The wood has a nice fragrance and a distinct color contrast between the red heartwood and the creamy sapwood. It is often used in the linings of mothproof chests and closets. The cedar wood splits easily, and can be planed and worked for shingles, benches, tables and even lead pencils.
Jim Gilbert’s Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.