Cedars and Junipers - Tree Leaf Key

A Quick and Easy Way to Identify 50 Common North American Trees

When you are trying to identify a tree, looking at the foliage "leaves or needles" can be a big help. If tree foliage is a scale-like leaf, then you are probably dealing with a conifer or evergreen that is in the "cedar" or juniper family. To figure out which of these trees you might have, take a look at the tree's foliage, and match it up to the types identified below.

Let me first explain that the Mediterranian "True Cedars" are not common in North American forests but are very common in the landscape. These Cedrus species - Cedar of Lebanon, Deodar cedar and Atlas cedar - are common but only in the park and garden landscape and have needles. 

New World Cedars

The "New World Cedars" are what we are trying to identify now and are natives of the North American forest. The new world cedars are taxonomically true cedars.

If you need to start over, return to the Tree Key Start Page.

The Major Cedars

The Major Cedars. The Major Cedars

Does your tree have scale-like green sprays that are flattened into fan-like foliage? Does your tree have small cones or tiny pink flowers attached to the fan-like sprays? Remember that Eastern red cedar is actually a juniper. If so you probably have a cedar!

Tips: The old world cedars are actually a part of the Cedrus species of the Pinaceae or pine  family. The new world cedars are a part of the Cypress family or Cupressaceae. The new world cedars are sometimes called "false cedar" but are considered true cedars that are the most familiar cedars native to North America.

All these new world cedars have similar looking flat, scale-like leaves, and somewhat similar stringy bark. And they all belong to the Cypress family (Cupressaceae). These new world cedars grow in the Northeast, Northwest and along the Atlantic coast.

These new world cedars have cones with scale-like leaves (not needles). Their positive identification is most often determined using a species range map.


The Major Junipers

Red Cedar. Red Cedar

Does your tree have berrylike, bluish, glaucous, bloomy cones on tips of shoots? Some junipers carry spiny needle-like leaves. The adult tree shape is often narrowly columnar. Remember that Eastern red cedar is actually in this juniper classification. If so you probably have a juniper!

Tips: The Eastern red cedar is the most common juniper in eastern North America. Rocky Mountain Juniper is most common in western North America.