South facing, west facing
Position in border:
Back, middle

Thuja occidentalis (arborvitae or white cedar) originates from eastern regions of North America and is the parent of a number of cultivated varieties grown for their handsome evergreen foliage and architectural shape. The scale-like leaves are aromatic when crushed and vary in colour according to variety, as does plant shape. Mature plants may produce tiny 1cm long cones in autumn.

The 16th century explorer Jacques Cartier named this tree arborvitae, which is Latin for ‘tree of life’, for its medicinal properties, after Native Americans gave his scurvy-stricken crew a tea made from the leaves, leading to their speedy recovery. The name white cedar was given to Thuja occidentalis when it was first introduced to Europe, as the foliage and wood were aromatic, although Thuja is unrelated to cedar (Cedrus).

While the species forms a large tree, the named, cultivated varieties are much more compact in habit and ideal for a range of uses in gardens. Depending on the plant shape, they could be grown as a slow-growing compact hedge, individual specimen in a border, or in a pot.

Advice on buying Thuja occidentalis

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  • Thuja occidentalis varieties are readily available from garden centres, nurseries, and online suppliers
  • Hedging specialists offer a range of sizes of taller-growing varieties
  • Always check trees for signs of disease or damage before planting

Where to buy Thuja occidentalis

Varieties of Thuja occidentalis to grow

Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd’ – an upright, conical tree with bright emerald-green foliage. Height x Spread: 2.5 m x 1m

Thuja occidentalis ‘Rheingold’ – a rounded bush of golden-yellow foliage. H x S: 2m x 1m

Thuja occidentalis ‘Holmstrup’ – a tall, mid green variety. H x S: 4m x 1.5m

Thuja occidentalis ‘Golden Globe’ – a small variety, forming a rounded bush. H x S: 1m x 1m

Plant calendar

Cut backyesyesyes

Thuja and wildlife

Thuja has no particular known value to wildlife in the UK.

Is Thuja poisonous?

Thuja irritates skin. Its foliage is toxic.

Toxic to:
Is known to attract People
No reported toxicity to:
Is not known to attract Birds
Is not known to attract Cats
Is not known to attract Dogs
Is not known to attract Horses
Is not known to attract Livestock