Cedars and junipers are both evergreen coniferous trees belonging to the plant order Pinales. They have many traits in common and are easily confused, in part because some trees commonly referred to as cedars are actually junipers. To sort out the confusion, it helps to take a closer look at the defining qualities of each tree.
Cedar is the common name for a variety of trees, including both "true" cedars (those belonging to the genus Cedrus) and "false" or "New World" cedars, which include a number of different trees from separate but similar genera.
Junipers are trees belonging to the genus Juniperus. Some of these trees, despite being junipers, are commonly referred to as cedars, such as Juniperus bermudiana, which is commonly known as the Bermuda cedar.
True Cedars vs. False Cedars
An important distinction needs to be made between "true" and "false" cedars. True cedars are members of the genus Cedrus and include species such as the Lebanon cedar, Atlas cedar, and Cyprus cedar. They are found in the Himalayas and the Mediterranean region and are often grown in parks and gardens. All true cedars are members of the pine family (Pinaceae).
False cedars, sometimes known as "New World" cedars, are found in North America. They are members of the genera Calocedrus, Thuja, and Chamaecyparis, all of which are part of the Cypress family (Cupressaceae). Some believe that these trees came to be called cedars because of their aromatic wood, which resembles that of true cedars.
Characteristics of Cedars
Cedars are evergreen coniferous trees found throughout the world. They are usually tall and often feature fan-like foliage, small cones, or tiny pink flowers. The major cedars of North America—including the Atlantic white cedar, northern white cedar, giant sequoia, and western red cedar—all have flat, scale-like leaves and stringy bark. They grow in the Northeast, Pacific Northwest, and along the Atlantic coast.
The Japanese red-cedar, originally cultivated in China, is used to produce strong, weather- and insect-resistant timber for building furniture and houses. Other cedars, including the Mexican white cedar and Australian red cedar, are also used to produce durable timber.
The Lebanon cedar—one of the true cedars—is mentioned numerous times in the Bible. It was supposedly used in the construction of Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem.
Characteristics of Junipers
Junipers, like cedars, are also evergreen coniferous plants. Junipers, however, are most commonly shrubs, though they can be trees as well. The plants often feature berrylike, bluish, glaucous, bloomy cones on the tips of their shoots. Some junipers also have spiny needle-like leaves.
Juniper trees, when they are fully grown, often resemble narrow columns. One of the best examples of this is Juniperus virginiana, or the eastern red-cedar, one of the several "cedars" that are actually junipers. It is the most common juniper in eastern North America. The most common juniper in western North America is the Rocky Mountain juniper.
All junipers produce small seed cones that resemble berries. The seed cones of the common juniper are sold as juniper berries. Juniper berries are a key ingredient in the production of gin.