7 Things You Didn’t Know About Arborvitae (Thuja)

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Arborvitae (Thuja) has been a tried and true privacy, screening, and hedge plant for many years. Its lush evergreen foliage, range of sizes, and ease of care make it able to fit into nearly any area, and it is adored by novice gardeners and landscapers alike. You may think you’re an arborvitae expert, but this popular plant has a long history that many might not know!

Here, we’ll discuss 7 things you likely didn’t know about arborvitae. Let’s dig in.

Tall Arborvitae trees in the landscape

#1. Botanically speaking, Arborvitae is actually a shrub

It may come as a shock, but arborvitae is actually NOT a tree; it’s a shrub! While the tall habit and branching may make arborvitae look very similar to a tree and are often used in privacy fences, arborvitae is classified as a shrub due to its low branching at the base. However, its height ranges from 1 foot to over 50 feet tall, making it a versatile addition to any hedge or landscape or in place of a tree. 

Rounded Thuja Cheer Drops Arborvitae used as a privacy fence

#2. Arborvitae is one of the most popular landscape plants

Arborvitae shrubs are very popular amongst landscapers and gardeners, with ‘Green Giant’ arborvitae having a rich history as one of the most popular landscape plants of all time and for good reason. This variety is a hybrid between the native Western and Japanese arborvitae, Thuja standishii.

Thuja 'Green Giant' Arborvitae trees used as a privacy fence

#3. Arborvitae (Thuja) is a popular incense

The scientific name of arborvitae, Thuja, comes from the Greek word for a type of incense that was made from the plant and used during religious ceremonies. When extracted, leaves and leaf oil have a light sweet scent with woody notes and have been traditionally used as a fragrance.  Thuja should never be consumed as some evidence suggests the chemicals might affect the human immune system.

close up of Cheer Drops foliage

#4. There are two species of arborvitae native to North America

There are two species of arborvitae native to North America – the Eastern arborvitae, Thuja occidentalis, and the Western arborvitae, Thuja plicata. While Thuja occidentalis has traditionally been the more popular of the two for landscaping, Thuja plicata is growing in popularity thanks to its better deer resistance (though it still needs to be protected, especially when it is young, in areas with heavy deer pressure).

Arborvitae Magic Ball landscaping plants

#5. Arborvitae are members of the Cupressaceae family

A few common arborvitae names are often used, including the Eastern and Western red cedar. This is because they are members of the Cupressaceae, or cypress/cedar family, and other North American native species like magnificent giant sequoias, coast redwoods, and bald cypress in the South.

Snowy Fluffy® Arborvitae trees in the landscape

#6. More than just a landscaping plant

Arborvitae has been used for many years outside of the everyday landscaping use we know it for today. Native Americans used arborvitae for various tasks, including using its branches to create “war canoes,” giving rise to one of their other common names, canoe cedar. Western arborvitae is also very rot-resistant and has been extremely useful in construction for centuries.

woman standing in front of American Pillar hedge

#7. Arborvitae can be used in holiday décor

Arborvitae and its cuttings can be used as wreaths, mini Christmas trees, table settings, and more! The evergreen branches, smaller stature of certain varieties, and lush green foliage are reminiscent of the holidays and can easily be spruced up (get it?) by adding lights and ornaments. Their beauty lasts longer than traditional cut spruce or pine trees, as their roots stay intact. Discover a new way to use arborvitae in holiday décor HERE.

Arborvitae cuttings used in a holiday wreath

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Written by: Lindsey Griffith, click here to read bio.

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