The sweet scent of spring

Smell something sweet as you’re walking in the woods?

In our neighborhood, it’s the American Holly blooming.


And by the way, don’t trim those lower branches! An American Holly has a lovely natural shape! The ‘skirt’ provides its own ground cover–no mulch needed!

E is for Eastern Red Cedar, an Evergreen

This native evergreen is often overlooked.

Eastern Red Cedar

The blue-green needles are pretty and prickly, and you wouldn’t think any animals would eat them, but White-tailed deer, rabbits and mice will. Eastern Red Cedars, Juniperus virginiana grow in open sunny places, usually disturbed soil, so you humans see them most often sprouting as little conical trees in the medians of your highways. In the olden days, they grew along fence rows. Those big trees with their red-brown shredy bark are a beautiful sight overhanging country roads. Unfortunately we suburban squirrels don’t have a photo of one–so you will have to make do with this one that had another tree combines with it.

Eastern Red Cedar tree

Eastern Red Cedar with seed cones in fall

The flowers aren’t much to look at, but in the fall the bluish berry-like cones ripen and are eaten by all kinds of animals: Woodpeckers, Cedar Waxwings, Bluebirds, Quail, turkey, doves, finches, crows, and also, red fox, raccoons, skunks, opossums, and of course, squirrels!

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Recognize these blue…things?

Mystery #140

Give us a guess. We’ll check back later!


As one of our readers guessed, this native tree is from the Juniper family–Juniperus virginiana, or Eastern Red Cedar. Many people call these little blue fruits the berries, but as Ms. Flora helped me to understand, they are actually seed cones for this evergreen.

Eastern Red Cedar with seed cones in fall

They get lumpier as they mature and contain 1-3 seeds, that are dispersed far and wide after being eaten over the winter by many species of birds, including Eastern Bluebirds, Cedar Waxwings and Wild Turkey.

You humans probably see the Eastern Red Cedar growing along your roads in the east. It likes sun, and readily grows in disturbed soil. If not mowed and no other trees grow in its space, the cedar grows quite tall and broad. It can be very long-lived–some of your human reports say 850 years!

Easter Red Cedar tree

Unfortunately that nice juniper smell one of our readers mentioned comes from the oils in the needles and wood…and makes them very flammable in a fire.

Warming trend?

Temperatures may only be five degrees here in Northern Virginia, but we’ll take it!

ice on Eastern Red Cedar melting ice on Eastern red cedar

The ice is melting and we are happy squirrels today. It’s wet brushing by this Eastern Red Cedar on our way to the feeders, but as Hickory said, “Hey, we’re not slipping on the railings!” ( Please note, The Squirrel Nutwork is still on winter break, but we had to share!) Stay safe out there, everyone!

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Hickory squirrel here, leaping over the closed notice!  I can’t help seeing the attention you humans are giving to evergreens–’tis the season, some of you say, to bring them indoors. But do you know your native evergreens? Test your skill on this one, minus the green!

Mystery #

Be back later to check your answers.


We had a good guess today! Yes, it’s a cedar–Eastern Red Cedar is our native one.

The foliage is a flat needle.

Eastern Red Cedar

The fragrance is wonderful, the very reason, Miz Flora tells us, that some of you humans use the wood in your homes. But we’d suggest using the whole tree this time of year…

Eastern Red Cedar

maybe not strung with spider webs.

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

This week’s mystery is pretty simple—these tiny flowers. What did they fall from?

Mystery # 58

Back later with your guesses!


These are the flowers of the American Holly, Ilex opaca.

American Holly flowers

I bet most of you think of Holly and berries, not Holly and flowers…but those berries have got to start somewhere!  This is another plant with male and female plans, and therefore flowers—and only the female ones produce the berries.

Which do you think these are?

staminate flowers of American Holly

The male ones have four stamens sticking up from the petal center, the females has a style—flower term for the ‘ovary’ part of the flower that produces the seeds.

Eastern Red Cedar. Really.

It’s our last day of Tree Week and I have to admit I nearly goofed. I got some great pictures of Eastern Red Cedar and was all ready to post them when Hickory looked over my shoulder.

Leyland Cyprus

“That’s not cedar,” he said.

Well, we argued around about it for a minute then he scampered off to get Miz Flora.

She shook her head and muttered something about a guy named Leland. Since it’s not that cold, she took Hickory and I to a different tree. A prickly tree. One I stay out of.

‘This is Eastern Red Cedar, Juniperus virginiana. See the red in the twigs, in the bark? In the heart of the wood also, but we won’t cut it to see that.”

Eastern Red Cedar

Easter Red Cedar bark

I looked over the kind of scruffy gray-green tree. “But what’s that tree?” I pointed to a gorgeous darker conifer, one I love to climb high up its tall trunk.

Leyland Cyprus

She sniffed. “Leyland Cyprus. Not native.” She stomped off.

Hickory bounced around. “I’m getting good at this!”

He is. When I compare the evergreen ‘leaves’, they don’t look much alike, close up or far away. Here is the Eastern Red Cedar in the foreground.

Eastern Red Cedar in foreground, Leyland Cyprus behind

I’m leaving both sets of photos so you can check your trees.

Eastern Hemlock

Miz Flora has made a special request that I include Eastern Hemlock, Tsuga canadensis in our Tree Week.

Eastern Hemlock

She says, don’t let the scientific–or the sometimes common name of Canadian Hemlock–fool you. This evergreen grows naturally here in Virginia. You might find it planted in someone’s backyard, as we did, but our field correspondents report that the conifer tree grows on the cooler northern slopes of our hillsides. Down here on the plains around DC, that means the ravines near the big rivers, like the Potomac River.

Eastern Hemlock bark

It’s a very long-lived tree, so gets quite large. Remember that Big Tree list we talked about last fall? I read people like to hunt for hemlocks in remote mountain areas to try to get on the list.

Eastern Hemlock cones

These big trees start from those little cones at the tips of the branches. Hickory and I don’t even bother with the seeds from these cones. We leave them to birds like the chickadees. If you haven’t guessed why, it’s less to do with the cone size than the branches. Those skinny tips are hard to navigate, even for us squirrel acrobats.