Arborvitae have dense evergreen foliage, and make great wind and visual screens for home gardens. These trees can live for centuries and are symbols of strength.
Only five species comprise this genus: two are native to North America (one in Illinois) and three to eastern Asia. Arborvitae (Thuja, pronounced Thu-ya) are sometimes called cedars. However, arborvitae are in the Cypress Family (Cupressaceae) while true cedars are in the Pine Family (Pinaceae).
The Arboretum’s collection holds the two North American species, eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis) and giant arborvitae (Thuja plicata). Eastern arborvitae dominates the collection with over 53 cultivars. This is a great place to come and compare the shape and style of different cultivars when planning a visual screen for your backyard.
Arborvitae have scale-like, evergreen foliage. When old arborvitae fall, new seedlings take root along their trunk. This continuing cycle benefits succeeding generations by giving the seedlings a competitive advantage. Arborvitae are very adaptable and useful and are often found planted where a compact growth form is needed for a visual screen and windbreaks. The wood has also been used for a variety of products, as it resists decay. Indigenous Americans and early European explorers ate its vitamin C-rich foliage to stave off scurvy.