By Dave Daubert
Few people hear the name of a common landscape tree called Northern White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis).
More commonly it is called either Arborvitae or thuja and sometimes Tree of Life. This evergreen has flat scales that serve as leaves. The underside of the scales has openings termed stomata. This is the tree’s access to the world for the exchange of oxygen and carbon monoxide and for loss of water. It is the presence of the stomata that cause trouble for the tree.
A drying westerly wind sucks moisture from the scales through the stomata. Arborvitae does better either having a row of other evergreens to block westerly winds or be located away from westerly winter winds. In the wild the tree’s primary habitat is peat swamps.
Arborvitae can grow in deep shade waiting for an opening in the canopy above and then quickly grows to fill the hole. The oldest known tree in Minnesota is an Arborvitae thought to be over 1,100 years old.
The name Arborvitae, Latin for l’arbre de vie (tree of life) was bestowed by the king of France in the early sixteenth century. A French expedition was ill with “distemper” and given a concoction of evergreen tips by the Indians and cured. The tree was brought to Europe as the first tree brought from the new world to Europe and is now widely established.