Bermuda Cedar (Juniperus bermudiana)
This endemic tree was the most dominate tree in Bermuda at one time, and is perhaps the most characteristic of Bermuda. The Bermuda Cedar forest was vitally important to the natural history of Bermuda and the early human history of the island. Bermuda’s original forests were dominated by the Bermuda Cedar and Bermuda Palmetto. Bermuda Cedars were found in upland forests, forested valleys and freshwater marshes. The growth of Bermuda Cedar varies depending on the growing conditions, in fertile soil and sheltered locations trees grow up to 50 feet (16 m) and may live for several hundred years.
Bermuda Cedar is a juniper not a true cedar. It is cone-shaped when it is young, and becomes a more rounded tree with a solid trunk when it is mature. The trunk can reach four feet in diameter, with widely spaced branches and is covered in bark which peels off in long strips. The twigs on which the scale-like leaves grow are square in cross section. Bermuda Cedars have widely spreading roots, which allow them to survive Bermuda’s winter gales and summer hurricanes. They are also resistant to salt spray.
Bermuda Cedar trees flower in March and April. Male trees produce pollen filled yellow cone-like flowers. The females have small flowers that become the characteristic berries. The blue-grey berries ripen and turn dark purple between September and December, and provide an excellent source of food for birds. Cedar trees also provide valuable nesting sites for birds such as the native Bluebird.
Cedar trees have significant cultural value to Bermudians. The wood of the Bermuda Cedar was historically valued for construction, ship building and furniture. It was also used for carving, boxes and firewood. The soft, red wood is still highly prized by woodworkers and the signature smell of cedar is known to most Bermudians. A Cedar seedling is often placed atop Bermudian wedding cakes to be planted by the couple.
The Bermuda Cedar no longer grows in dense forests. Between 1946 and 1953, 95% of the Bermuda Cedars were killed by accidentally introduced juniper scale insects Carulaspis minima and Lepidosaphesnewsteadi. At this time, Bermuda Cedar was the most dominant tree on the Bermudian landscape, so the magnitude of the die off deforested the island and constituted an ecological disaster with ripple effects that continue today. Many biological control species were imported, such as lady bird beetles to attack the cedar scale insects. In the aftermath, dead cedars were cut and burned removing valuable timber resources and nesting habitat for birds and homes of insects and other species. Many species that were adapted to life in the Cedar-dominated forest also seriously declined, such as the native Bluebird and the endemic Cicada which is now extinct.
Exotic tree species like the Casuarina were imported to reforest the island after the Cedar Blight. The introduction of new trees and the large tracts of newly cleared land for them to grow on, laid the foundation for the invasive species problems we have in Bermuda today.
Around 5% of the Bermuda Cedar population survived the insect attack, and these trees were found to be resistant to the scale. In the early 1980’s coordinated efforts to propagate and restore cedars began, using seeds from these scale-resistant trees. People were encouraged to plant them in their gardens and planting in parks began. Today Cedars are doing well in parks, nature reserves and gardens where invasive plants are managed and not allowed to overwhelm them.
Bermuda Cedars can be propagated from seed or cuttings. The ripe berries should be collected and rubbed with sand paper to break the seed coat, then planted in potting mix, by loosely covering the seeds. Germination takes from 6 weeks to 6 months and seeds must be watered regularly. When planting cedars in your garden the site should be selected carefully to allow adequate room for the tree to grow as these trees reach 50 feet (16 m) and do not do well after being moved. There are several species of ornamental Junipers in Bermuda that are often confused with the Bermuda Cedar. The Darrell’s Cedar (Juniperus silicicola) and Virginia Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) are particularly close in appearance to Bermuda Cedar.