GEORGE H. CROSBYMANITOU STATE PARK
Northern White Cedar
The northern white cedar grows in coniferous and lowland hardwood swamps. While its presence usually indicates swampy, rich soils, it also grows along the rocky banks of streams and rivers. On this hike you will find this cedar growing in both habitats. Its range stretches from Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, and southern Manitoba to New York, Ohio, Illinois, and west to Country. It also grows at high elevations in the Appalachian Mountains south to North Carolina and Tennessee.
A very early name for the white cedar is Arbor Vitae. In A Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs, George A. Petrides notes the name is latinized French for tree-of-life. It got this name after a brew of white cedar saved the lives of some men on Jacques Cartier’s 1535-36 voyage from France to the St. Lawrence River. Wintering at the site of present-day Quebec, twenty-five of his men died of what was probably scurvy before someone concocted the life-saving drink. As a result, the northern white cedar became the first tree imported to Europe from the Americas.
The white cedar had many uses among Native Americans. James A. Duke, in Medicinal Plants of the World, writes that the Chippewa pricked cedar charcoal powder into their temples to reduce pain, used the leaves in cough compounds, and smoked the leaves in rituals of ceremonial cleansing. They also used the inner bark of young twigs to make soap and the wood to fashion ribs for birchbark canoes.
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