Often confused for one another, there are a few key differences between a juniper vs cedar tree. But what might some of those differences be, and how can you learn how to tell these trees apart, whether you are shopping for a new addition to your backyard landscaping, or simply want to identify these tall beauties while hiking or camping?
In this article, we will compare and contrast the juniper tree with the cedar trees so that you can fully understand them as individuals. We will go over what they look like as well as what they are typically used for, and where these two trees prefer to grow. Let’s get started and learn all about junipers and cedars now!
Comparing Juniper vs Cedar
|Plant Family and Genus||Cupressaceae; Juniperus||Pinaceae; Cedrus|
|Description||Trees and shrubs ranging in height depending on variety (10-90 ft). Produces flat needles in a branching pattern alongside bluish gray berries or cones. Bark gets flakier with age and comes in shades of gray and brown||Tall trees ranging in height depending on variety (typically 50-100 ft). Produces needles in a fan shape alongside small cones and occasionally flowers. Bark is scaly, often in shades of red and brown, which peels easily|
|Uses||Has a variety of uses, given its dense but flexible wood; popular for ornamentation. Ideal for making tools and fences, and the berries are also key in gin production||Used primarily in ornamental landscaping and gardens. The wood has a unique smell that is pleasant to people, but repels moths, making it good for protecting clothes and fabrics|
|Origin and Growing Preferences||Native to Tibet, Africa, and Asia; open to a variety of climates and soil types, though make sure you find the right cultivar for your region||Native to the Himalayas and the Mediterranean; prefers mountainous regions, though some varieties can’t handle extremely cold temperatures|
|Hardiness Zones||7 through 10||6 through 9|
Key Differences Between Juniper vs Cedar
There are a number of key differences between junipers and cedars. For example, most cedar varieties grow taller than the average juniper tree. Cedar trees are classified differently from juniper trees, belonging to a different plant family and genus. While there are a number of subspecies belonging to both juniper trees and cedar trees, most juniper trees are hardier than cedar trees.
Let’s go over all of these differences in more detail now.
Juniper vs Cedar: Classification
Despite them often being confused for each other, juniper trees and cedar trees belong to different plant families and genuses from one another. For example, juniper trees belong to the cypress plant family, while cedar trees belong to the pine plant family. In addition, these two tree species can be classified in different plant genuses as well, lending to their names: junipers belong to the Juniperus genus, while cedars belong to the Cedrus genus.
Juniper vs Cedar: Description
It can be very difficult to tell a juniper tree apart from a cedar tree upon first glance, especially when you consider just how many different varieties there are. However, there are a few key differences you can pay attention to in order to tell them apart. For example, most juniper trees grow smaller than cedar trees, and many juniper varieties can even be classified as shrubs or bushes rather than trees.
When it comes to their leaves, cedars grow their needles in a fan-like appearance, while juniper needles are often flat and branching by comparison. In addition to their leaves or needles, cedars grow small cones and occasionally flowers, while junipers produce small blue berries that act as cones. Finally, most cedar bark is red or brown in color, while juniper tree bark is gray or brown in color. Both have a unique flaky texture, though juniper trees get more flaky with age compared to cedar trees.
Juniper vs Cedar: Uses
Both juniper trees and cedar trees are similar to one another in the fact that they are some of the most common ornamental trees used around the world. Both of these tree varieties are also used in bonsai production, producing small and maintainable trees for ornamental gardens. However, the flexibility of juniper wood makes it ideal in tool production and when used as fence posts, while cedar wood is popular for repelling moths.
Cedar has a unique smell to it, quite pleasant to humans but terrible for moths, something that juniper wood does not have. However, juniper is necessary for producing gin, while cedar trees are primarily used for building furniture pieces, particularly closets and clothing chests.
Juniper vs Cedar: Origin and How to Grow
Given just how many species of juniper and cedar trees there are, the origin of both of these trees is relatively unknown. However, experts estimate that cedar trees originated in the Himalayas and Mediterranean, while juniper trees originated in Tibet or Asia, and potentially even Africa.
When it comes to growing either of these two trees, juniper trees are typically more resistant and versatile compared to cedar trees. Most cedar trees prefer high elevations and mountainous regions, but they are not nearly as cold hardy as some juniper varieties are. You can find juniper trees growing in desert regions as well as cold mountains, depending on the variety.
Juniper vs Cedar: Hardiness Zones
A final key difference between juniper trees and cedar trees has to do with where they thrive best. For example, juniper trees grow in hardiness zones 7 through 10, while cedar trees grow best in hardiness zones 6 through 9, making juniper trees more hardy by comparison. However, both of these trees grow well in a variety of places- just make sure you get the proper juniper or cedar cultivar for the region where you live!
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/SbytovaMN
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- Red cedar chests as protectors against moth damage, Available here: https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=pbxFAQAAIAAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA2&dq=cedar+moths&ots=mEPDD-ffWV&sig=iUu7cG5Z5tXtJkd69NkNVBxYHDk
- Biology, ecology, and management of western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis), Available here: https://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/technical_reports/cz30pv075