One of the simplest ways to identify a cedar tree is by looking at its distinct bark. All types of cedar trees have a reddish-brown bark that peels from the tree in large strips. Cedar trees can also be identified by their shape, height, natural habitats, needles and cones.
The Eastern red cedar's shape is a dense, column-like crown. These cedars grow from 40 to 60 feet tall and can grow where many other trees cannot, including acidic wetlands and dry, rocky ridges. Their fragrant needles are one-sixteenth inch long, shiny, dark-green and scale-like. Only female red cedars have cones, which are round and change from green to blue with ripeness.
Atlantic white cedars are narrow and pointed, while their shape is slender. They have short branches. They reach 85 feet and can be as wide as 2 feet. They grow in wet areas, such as freshwater bogs and glades, and along the edges of swamps and streams. Their needles are one-eighth inch long and their cones are one-fourth inch wide with a blue or purplish color that turns to reddish-brown in the fall.
The Northern white cedar is characterized by its pyramid-like shape and pointed crown, with short horizontal branches. Northern whites usually grow between 40 to 70 feet tall, and 1 to 3 feet wide. They grow in cool, moist soils, like stream banks. The needles on a Northern white cedar are flattened and scaly, and create fan-like shapes. The cones found on a Northern white are leathery, reddish-brown, and oblong. They grow upright on the branches.