The house that I grew up in was surrounded by six or seven large cedar trees. I never paid them much attention during my early days, except that they smelled good and my dad was allergic to them.
It occurred to me one day recently that most of the very early settlers’ homesteads were surrounded by cedar trees. Even today walking through the hills of East Texas one can spot a former homestead by the presence of an old curbed well and cedar trees. The question came to me as to why the early settlers planted cedar trees all around their property. Did they serve a useful function, and if so, what was it? The cedar is not native to East Texas.
Over the years my mom and dad cut down the sturdy cedar trees surrounding their house one by one. I never knew why they did this.
The cedar is a large evergreen tree which will usually grow to a height of up to fifty feet, a few can reach one hundred or more feet. They are common in forest areas that have a good deal of annual rainfall. They seem to prefer moist soil with limestone beneath it. The cedar trees often live a long time, some as long as two hundred years. One reason is that the wood of cedar trees is very resistant to disease. Another reason is that the natural oils in the wood are toxic to insects and fungus. This oil does not fully develop in young trees which often leads to the rotting of the red heartwood of the tree. This results in mature trees that have hollow trunks which make great homes for animals.
It seems that native Americans were fond of the cedar tree. They were used to hollow out a canoe. The wood of cedars was used also used to make weapons, boxes, bowls, and baskets. The bark of the cedar tree was used to make blankets, capes, and costumes. It was also an excellent source of fuel.
I can recall that my parents and grandparents had real “cedar chests” in which they stored valuable linen and woolens. The cedar scent kept moths and silverfish from entering the chest. Most closets were lined with cedar for the same purpose. I recall hanging wallpaper in closets of homes in the fifties. The wallpaper was manufactured to look like cedar planks. It contained the cedar smell which lasted for years. When you opened your closet door you were met with a pleasant cedar aroma.
Cedar fence posts were a favorite of our ancestors. The red center of the wood resisted rotting and insects. Even today while exploring an old homestead you might stump your toe on the remnant of a cedar post. Today’s pencils are still made of cedar wood.
So, I have to speculate that our founding fathers knew much about the benefits of having cedar trees surrounding their modest homes. Someone has stated that our ancestors believed that if you planted a young cedar tree, by the time it was grown it would provide a shade for your final resting place.
Cedar trees do make a great addition to any landscape. The evergreen foliage adds color year round. The beautiful fragrance of the wood wafts on the breeze. The branches make excellent locations for bird and squirrel nests. Cedar trees look magnificent towering over the land as a single tree, or bunched together in clusters of several trees. I think our forefathers were pretty smart, don’t you?