Eastern red cedar is a small to medium-sized tree, aromatic, evergreen, with a dense, pyramidal (sometimes cylindrical) crown.
Leaves, usually at the end of twigs, are minute, either scalelike or needlelike, olive green to yellowish green, turning bronze after the first frost and staying somewhat reddish through winter.
Trunk is single, tapering; trunk spreads at the base.
Bark is light reddish brown, shredding into long, thin, flat strips, the trunk tapering toward the top and spreading at the base.
Twigs are flexible, green the first year, reddish brown the second year, aromatic.
Conifers don't technically flower, but pollen is shed March–May. Male and female cones usually on separate trees; male cones small, often abundant, golden brown, produced at tips of twigs; female cones smaller, purplish, about 1/16 inch long.
Fruits August–September; female cones become fleshy, berrylike, about ¼ inch long, dark blue, covered with a white, waxy coating, globe-shaped; flesh sweet, resinous, with odor of gin; seeds within the cone 1–2.
- Missouri has one other native juniper, Ashe's juniper (Juniperus ashei). It is uncommon in the southwestern portion of the Ozarks; our populations represent the northeastern tip of its range. The margins of its scale-leaves are finely and irregularly serrated (toothed; use magnification), while those of eastern red cedar are entire (smooth). Also, the foliage is darker green than eastern red cedar and stays green through winter, and the bark is grayer.
- Numerous other members of the cypress family (often called junipers) are grown in Missouri as landscaping plants, but they are not known to escape or become established outside of cultivation. Thus plants like Italian cypress, dawn redwood, and arborvitae are not considered part of our flora.
- Meanwhile, true cedars (genus Cedrus) are unrelated to eastern red cedar and are not native to North America; they are in the pine family.