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The eastern arborvitae is an extremely common evergreen tree or shrub, used often as a specimen, in hedges, or for privacy. The name “arborvitae,” meaning “tree of life,” because Native Americans reportedly used the tree for medicinal purposes. The small cones open up to look like small flowers and appeal to birds. In the forest, the tree can grow up to 50 feet high, but it rarely is that tall in cultivation. There are many cultivars that vary in height and other characteristics. 

This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.

  • Family (English) Cypress
  • Family (botanic) Cupressaceae
  • Planting site Residential and parks
  • Tree or plant type Tree, Shrub
  • Foliage Evergreen (foliage year-round)
  • Native locale Chicago area, Illinois, North America
  • Size range Compact tree (10-15 feet), Large tree (more than 40 feet), Low-growing shrub (under 3 feet), Medium shrub (5-8 feet), Medium tree (25-40 feet), Small shrub (3-5 feet), Small tree (15-25 feet)
  • Mature height 40-60 feet
  • Mature width 10-15 feet
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), Partial sun / shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 3, Zone 4, Zone 5 (Chicago), Zone 6, Zone 7
  • Soil preference Alkaline soil, Moist, well-drained soil
  • Tolerances Dry sites, Road salt
  • Season of interest early fall, early spring, early summer, early winter, late fall, late spring, late summer, late winter, mid fall, mid spring, midsummer, midwinter
  • Flower color and fragrance Inconspicuous
  • Shape or form Mounded, Narrow, Pyramidal, Round
  • Growth rate Moderate
  • Transplants well Yes
  • Wildlife Birds, Browsers, Small mammals
  • Has cultivars Yes

Native geographic location and habitat:

C-value: 10 This is native to the forests of Eastern North America.

Bark color and texture:

The bark is grayish-brown to reddish-brown, with stringy fibers and a network of ridges and shallow furrows.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture:

The needles of the Eastern arborvitae are soft and green, with spreading flat sprays of overlapping scales at the ends of short, ascending branches.

Flower arrangement, shape and size:

Flowers are inconspicuous, and there are separate male and female flowers.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions:

The plant has tiny oval seed cones mature from yellow to light brown.  When cones open they look like little roses.

Plant care:

The Foliage of the Eastern arborvitae tends to discolor in winter but is tolerant of shearing.This species prefers consistent moisture but not wet soil. Keep mulched to moderate soil temperature swings. Best growth occurs in full sun to part shade.

Pests, diseases and tolerances:

It can be affected by bagworm, leaf miner, spider mites, and deer browsing. It is also susceptible to strong wind, snow, and ice damage, but is tolerant of black walnut toxicity.

These plants are cultivars of a species that is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research. Cultivars are plants produced in cultivation by selective breeding or via vegetative propagation from wild plants identified to have desirable traits.

Anna’s Magic Ball Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Anna van Vloten’):

This plant is a dwarf cultivar reaching 12 to 18 inches high and wide, with a globe shape.  Foliage is golden.

Brabant Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Brabant’):

This variety has a narrow, spire-like form reaching 12 to 15 feet high and 3 to 4 feet wide.  It maintains a good green color in winter.

Brandon Eastern arborvitae  (Thuja occidentalis ‘Brandon’):

This variety is another narrow cultivar growing 12-15 feet high by 6 to 8 feet wide.  Foliage is resistant to winter burn.

Danica Easter arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Danica’):

This is a small, compact, ball-shaped shrub, growing 2 feet high and wide and tolerates light shade and wet sites. It is useful in foundation plantings, rock gardens, low hedges, or as an accent plant.

Emerald Green Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd’):

This small tree has a narrow, pyramidal habit, growing 10 to 15 feet high and 3 to 4 feet wide. It retains green color in winter, tolerates heat, cold, and wet sites. It is useful as a specimen plant, in groups, or as a hedge.

Fire Chief™ Eastern Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Congabe’):

This variety is globe shaped and is only 4 feet high and wide at maturity.  Foliage is red-tipped.

Globosa Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Globosa’):

It is a medium-sized, broadly rounded shrub growing 4 to 6 feet high and wide. Foliage may turn slightly gray-green in winter and is useful as foundation plantings, as a hedge, or accent plant.

Golden Globe Eastern Arborvitae  (Thuja occidentalis ‘Golden Globe’):

This compact, ball-shaped shrub has yellow-green foliage. It can tolerate light shade and wet sites and is useful in foundation plantings, rock gardens, low hedges, or as an accent plant.

Hetz’ Midget Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Hetz’ Midget’):

It is a low shrub form growing 3 to 4 feet high and wide. It is useful in foundation plantings, rock gardens, low hedges, as an accent plant, or in containers. Although, containers must be insulated to protect roots in winter.

Hetz’ Wintergreen Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Hetz’ Wintergreen’):

This variety is narrow and columnar.  It reaches 20 to 30 feet high and 5 to 10 feet wide, with a central leader. It is useful as a specimen or planted in rows to form hedges, screens, or windbreaks.

Holmstrup Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Holmstrup’):

This variety is a compact shrub with an upright habit.  It grows 6 to 8 feet high and 2 to 3 feet wide and retains green color in winter. It tolerates poor drainage and alkaline soils and is deer resistant. It is useful as a specimen plant, foundation plant, in groups, or as a low hedge.

Linesville Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Linesville’):

This very small, globe-shaped cultivar grows 2 to 3 feet high and wide.

Mr. Bowling Ball Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Bobazam’):

This small, compact, rounded shrub grows just 2 to 3 feet high and wide. It has dense, fine, soft, scale-like, gray-green foliage. Useful in foundation plantings, rock gardens, as an accent plant, or in containers. Although containers must be insulated to protect the roots in winter.

Nigra Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Nigra’):

The dark green foliage persists all winter. Growing narrow and pyramidal, it reaches 25 to 30  feet high and 5 to 8 feet wide. Once established it tolerates temporary flooding, heat and drought.  It is exceptionally cold-hardy and is  useful as a specimen, an accent, or in groups as a hedge, screen, or windbreak.

North Pole® Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Art Boe’):

It has a narrow, upright habit gowing 12 to 15 feet high and 3 to 5 feet wide.

Pyramidalis Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Pyramidalis’):

This variety is a tall, narrow, pyramidal tree growing 20 to 30 feet high and 5 to 8 feet wide. It requires moist soil and tolerates temporary dry to wet sites, but does not tolerate drought. It may suffer from winter burn if not sheltered from strong winds.

Technito® Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘BailJohn’):

This variety is a compact cultivar growing 8 to 10 feet high and 4 to 5 feet wide. It maintains good color in winter.

Techny Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Techny’):

This is a broadly pyramidal small tree or large shrub and grows 10 to 15 feet tall and 6 to 10 feet wide. Its dark green foliage retains color in winter. It is extremely cold hardy and tolerant of alkaline soils. It is useful as a specimen plant, in groups or screens, or as a hedge.  Also sold under the name ‘Mission’.

Wareana Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Wareana’):

This plant is broadly pyramidal and rounding with age.  It grows 8 to 10 feet high and 6 to 8 feet wide. The leathery foliage is tinged with blue. Tolerant of wet soil and is cold hardy. It is useful as a specimen or accent plant and is good for hedges and foundation plantings.

Woodwardii Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Woodwardii’):

This variety is a rounded shrub form growing 3 to 6 feet high and wide. It has dense, soft, scale-like, green foliage. It tolerates light shade and wet sites and is useful as a specimen or in groups.

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