Native plants and trees have been reintroduced and spread throughout Grant County to counteract the negative effects invasive species and human negligence has had on the ecosystem.

Eastern red cedars, scientifically known as juniperus virginiana, are juniper trees native to Eastern North America, including Grant County.

Eastern red cedars are beneficial for numerous reasons in communities such as Grant County due to their resilience and ability to grow in disturbed areas.

“Disturbed areas are basically places where habitat has been cleared, damaged, or fragmented due to natural disasters or human activities. This could include things like fires, cutting down trees, mowing, etc.,” said Wild About Marion member and forestry enthusiast Taylere McCoy. “It is beneficial that eastern red cedar grows well in these spaces because they help replace vegetation that has been lost.”

Eastern red cedars are one of the first native trees to grow in open spaces, allowing for other trees to prosper and enhancing the habitat. This distinction marks the cedars as an early pioneer species.

Eastern red cedars are resilient as they harbor the ability to grow in extreme conditions such as drought, extreme cold and extreme heat, which allows for them to provide a habitat for wildlife in areas where little plant life grows.

“When an area is disturbed, it restarts a process called ecological succession. Over time, the habitat will go through changes and progress to a state that is considered more stable. In our region, we usually start with something like a prairie, with a lot of grasses and wildflowers,” said McCoy. “The end result is typically some type of forest. Eastern red cedars are one of the tree species that help start the forest stage.”

Eastern red cedars are considered to be an evergreen tree species, which is fairly rare in Indiana. Evergreen trees not only provide an aesthetic value to the area, but they also provide food and shelter for wildlife during the winter when deciduous trees lose their leaves and food sources.

Eastern red cedars are also typically utilized as a windbreak for houses and other structures during the winter as a means of reducing the chill of winter wind gusts.

The trees also provide direct ecological benefits such as altering the soul, adding nutrients and creating more favorable conditions for other plant life to prosper. They also provide the typical benefits of trees such as providing oxygen and shade, purifying water, controlling erosion and much more.

“Eastern red cedars are also the source of many products used by human beings. This includes Christmas trees, fence posts, cedar chests and other wood products,” said McCoy. “Historically, the fruits, leaves and oil of eastern red cedar has been used medicinally to treat things such as coughs, colds and even dysentery.”

McCoy stressed that a doctor should be contacted before utilizing natural products for medicinal purposes as Eastern red cedars are known to have some toxic chemicals present.

While not necessary for the spread of Eastern red cedars, people may gently shake branches as they walk by to help heighten the production of pollen that is dispersed to nearby plant life, inevitably helping the production of new plants.

“People can promote the spread of native plants first and foremost by planting them. This will not only physically spread them, but it will also allow them to mature and produce seeds, further spreading the plant,” said McCoy. “When they are allowed to live in their natural habitats, interacting with other members of their species and our native wildlife, our native plants are pretty effective at spreading themselves.”

As with the production of most native plants, one of the most important ways to benefit growth is controlling invasive species that attempt to “choke” native species of nutrients, inevitably harming the ecosystem.

“If you’d like to plant eastern red cedar, please be sure to plant them correctly so that they can reach maturity and provide their full benefit,” said McCoy. “The basic things to remember are to make sure the root flare is at or just above ground level, do not leave any materials that will not break down around the root ball, such as plastic pots or metal cages, and make sure the soil is watered in and/or lightly tamped down to reduce air pockets and settling. Mulching is usually a good idea, but do not pile mulch around the base of the tree.”
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