Juniperus virginiana. Red Cedar.
Unlike the subject of the preceding article, this species rises into a tree of considerable size. It is the largest of the Junipers growing within the original limits of the United States, though it appears that Lewis and Clarke brought home specimens of a lofty tree, with foliage resembling the Savin, found on the banks of streams among the Rocky mountains, and which is supposed to be the same with J. excelsa, growing in Siberia.
Michaux, in his North American Sylva, informs us, that it is found from Maine and from Lake Champlain, without interruption to the Cape of Florida. In the Middle and Northern states, it frequents the most barren soils, being found in abundance upon dry, rocky hills, where scarcely any other tree can subsist. Its size, however, is said to be here inferior to that which it attains in Virginia, and farther south.
Its habit and foliage abundantly distinguish it from the species in the last article. From the Juniperus Sabina, or common Savin of Europe, its botanical distinction is by no means easy. The general appearance and arrangement of the leaves in the full grown specimens of both is precisely the same, except that in the Red cedar the leaves are shorter and more compactly imbricated, having an ovate form, while in the Savin they are somewhat longer and more remote, and may be called lanceolate. In the Red cedar they are also more universally and pungently acute. The characters of the latter species, which I have seen given by different botanists, are almost all defective, in ascribing to it ternate leaves, which, I believe, never exist except in imperfect or distorted specimens. Its more true character is as follows. Trunk arboreous, upper leaves imbricated in four rows, ovate, pungently acute. It is by no means certain that on mature examination all the present species of Juniper will be found sufficiently distinct to be kept separate.
The Red cedar, when full grown, is a middling sized tree, though, on account of the value of its wood, it is seldom suffered to reach its full dimensions. The trunk is straight and decreases rapidly from the ground, giving off many horizontal branches. Its surface is generally unequal, and disfigured by knots, and the crevices and protuberances they occasion. The small twigs are covered with minute, densely imbricated leaves, which continue to increase in size as the branch grows, till they are broken up and confounded with the rough bark. These leaves are fleshy, ovate, concave, rigidly acute, marked with a small depressed gland on the middle of their outer side, growing in pairs, which are united at base to each other, and to the pairs above and below them. They do not alter their situation, but continue opposite till they are obliterated by age. A singular variety sometimes appears in the young shoots, especially those which issue from the base of the trees. This consists in an elongation of the leaves to five or six times their usual length, while they become spreading, acerose, considerably remote from each other, and irregular in their insertion, being either opposite or ternate. These shoots are so dissimilar to the parent tree that they have repeatedly been mistaken for individuals of a different species.
The barren flowers grow in small oblong aments, formed by peltate scales with the anthers concealed within them. The fertile flowers have a proper perianth, which coalesces with the germ and forms a small roundish berry, with two or three seeds, covered on its outer surface with a bright blue powder.
The leaves of the Red cedar have a strong disagreeable taste, with some pungency and bitterness. The peculiar taste and odour reside, no doubt, in a volatile oil, which, however, is not readily separated by distillations in a small way. The tincture becomes turbid when water is added, and very much so if suffered to stand a day or two. The presence of tannin is developed by the admixture of dissolved isinglass, with a decoction of the bark and leaves.
The botanical similarity of this tree to the Savin, which is an European shrub, has already been mentioned. In their sensible and medicinal properties, they are equally allied. The taste of the two species is nearly the same, except that the cedar leaves are the more nauseous of the two. As the American tree is frequently known throughout the country by the name of Savin, our apothecaries have been led to presume upon its identity with that medicine, and it has long been used in cases where the true Savin is recommended. Its most frequent use, however, is in the composition of the cerate employed for keeping up the irritation and discharge of blisters. This preparation is the same with the Savin cerate, used in Europe, the leaves of the Red cedar being substituted for those of the Savin. When properly prepared by boiling the fresh leaves for a short time in about twice their weight of lard with the addition of a little wax, a cerate is formed of peculiar efficacy as a perpetual epispastic. When applied as a dressing to a newly vesicated surface, and afterwards repeated twice a day, it rarely fails to keep up the discharge for an indefinite length of time. Under its operation, the discharge usually changes from a serous to a puriform appearance, and concretes upon the surface; so that it requires to be removed from time to time, to admit the full action of the cerate.
Internally the leaves of the Juniperus Virginiana have been found to exert effects very similar to those of the Savin. They have proved useful as an emmenagogue, and as a general stimulant and diaphoretic in rheumatism. They have also had some reputation as a diuretic in dropsy.
The wood of the Red cedar is smooth, light, and very durable. Its alburnum is white, but the heart wood of a beautiful red colour, whence its name is derived. It is principally employed for posts in fences, in which capacity it proves more durable than almost any species of wood used for the same purpose.
Juniperas Virginiana, Willd. iv. 862.
Pursh, ii. 647.
Michaux, fil. N. A. Sylva, t. 155.
Thacher, Disp. 247.