Thuja Genus (arborvitae)

6 Species with 213 Trinomials


Thuja is a genus of coniferous trees in the Cupressaceae (cypress) family. There are five species in the genus, two native to North America and three native to eastern Asia. The genus is monophyletic and sister to Thujopsis. They are commonly known as arborvitaes (from Latin for tree of life) or Thujas; several species are widely known as cedar but, because they are not true cedars (Cedrus), it has been recommended to call them red-cedars or white-cedars.

Description. Thujas are evergreen trees growing from 10 to 200 feet (3 - 60 m) tall, with stringy-textured reddish-brown bark.

  • The shoots are flat, with side shoots only in a single plane.
  • The leaves are scale-like, measuring 0.04 to 0.4 inch (1 – 10 mm) long, except in young seedlings during their first year, which have needle-like leaves. The scale leaves are arranged in alternating decussate pairs in four rows along the twigs.
  • The pollen cones are small, inconspicuous, and are located at the tips of the twigs.
  • The seed cones start out similarly inconspicuous, but grow to about 0.4 to 0.8 inch (1 – 2 cm) long and are mature at about 6 to 8 months old. They have 6 to 12 overlapping, thin, leathery scales, each scale bearing 1 to 2 small seeds with a pair of narrow lateral wings.
foliage and cones of <em>Thuja sutchuenensis </em> (left), <em>Thuja plicata </em> (center), and <em>Thuja occidentalis </em> (right)
foliage and cones of Thuja sutchuenensis (left), Thuja plicata (center), and Thuja occidentalis (right)

The five species in the genus Thuja are small to large evergreen trees with flattened branchlets. The leaves are arranged in flattened fan shaped groupings with resin-glands, and oppositely grouped in 4 ranks. The mature leaves are different from younger leaves, with those on larger branchlets having sharp, erect, free apices. The leaves on flattened lateral branchlets are crowded into appressed groups and scale-like and the lateral pairs are keeled. With the exception of western red-cedar (Thuja plicata), the lateral leaves are shorter than the facial leaves (Li et al. 2005). The solitary flowers are produced terminally. Pollen cones have 2 to 6 pairs of 2 to 4 pollen sacked sporophylls. Seed cones are ellipsoid, typically 0.36 to 0.55 inch (9 - 14mm) long, they mature and open in their first year. The thin woody cone scales number from 4 to 6 pairs and are persistent and overlapping, with an oblong shape, they are also basifixed. The central 2 to 3 pairs of cone scales are fertile. The seed cones produce 1 to 3 seeds per scale, the seeds are lenticular in shape and equally 2 winged. Seedlings produce 2 cotyledons.

Another very distinct and only distantly related species, formerly treated as Thuja orientalis, is now treated in a genus of its own, as Platycladus orientalis. The closest relatives of Thuja are Thujopsis dolabrata, distinct in its thicker foliage and stouter cones, and Tetraclinis articulata is distinct in its quadrangular foliage (not flattened) and cones with four thick, woody scales.

The genus Thuja, like many other forms of conifers, is represented by ancestral forms in Cretaceous rocks of northern Europe, and with the advance of time is found to migrate from northerly to more southerly regions, until during Pliocene time it disappeared from Europe. Thuja is also known in the Miocene beds of the Dakotas.

The foliage is also readily eaten by deer, and where deer population density is high, can adversely affect the growth of young trees and the establishment of seedlings.

They are widely grown as ornamental trees, and extensively used for hedges. A number of cultivars are grown and used in landscapes. Homeowners will sometimes plant them as privacy trees. The cultivar 'Green Giant' is popular as a very vigorous hedging plant, growing up to 80 cm/year when young.

The wood is light, soft and aromatic. It can be easily split and resists decay. The wood has been used for many applications from making chests that repel moths to shingles. Thuja poles are also often used to make fence posts and rails. The wood of Thuja plicata is commonly used for guitar sound boards.[14] The combination of light weight and resistance to decay has led to Thuja plicata (Western red cedar) being widely used for the construction of bee hives.[citation needed]

Oil of Thuja contains the terpene thujone which has been studied for its GABA receptor antagonistic, with potentially lethal properties.

The natives of Canada used the needles of Thuja occidentalis (Eastern white cedar) to make a tea that has been shown to contain 50 mg of vitamin C per 100 grams; this helped prevent and treat scurvy.

In the 19th century Thuja was commonly used as an externally applied tincture or ointment for the treatment of warts, ringworm and thrush, and a local injection of the tincture was used for treating venereal warts.

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Attribution from: Wikipedia


Peter Pliszka

do Arborvitae loose leaves during fall? It seems like my are loosing some leaves? Should they be sprayed from preventing to get sick?

Maxwell Cohn

yes, very normal. An arborvitae will lose up to 1-third of its interior foliage every fall. No disease to treat.

Nikki Isakson

I have four 3 yr old emerald green arborvitae that were shipped to me and planted two weeks ago. The very tops were all bent in shipment. They are not broken, just bent. I was hoping they would straighten on their own, but so far, nothing. Do I need to place a support at the top and wrap it in place? I don't want to wait too long.

Maxwell Cohn

I have seen arbs bent by snow, ice, and other mechanical disruptions. For the most part they will straighten themselves out (unless they get bent to the ground). I've seen it take an entire season. For exceptional ugliness, I've wrapped the entire plant with old bicycle tires to hasten the process.

Carol Holstead

I have a conifer I can't identify. Its leaves and cones look like an aborvitae but it has a very unusual shape. The trunk branches and spreads near the base, somewhat like the lone cypress. I cannot find any pictures of aborvitae that look like this. I think the tree is around 60 years old. Would love to send a photo of the tree and leaves. Thank you.

Brandy Reece

How much do the Emerald Green arborvitaes grow a year.

Maxwell Cohn

... of course, by Emerald Green™, you mean 'Smaragd', the proper cultivar name for this conifer. Please see this link for the answer

Emily Paine

I have recently, w/in past month, planted a arbavatae @ 6 ft. Tall purchased @ Home Depot. The tree was not the healthiest, but in reasonably good shape @ a competitive price. It is turning brown in an area getting direct morning sun. An entire vertical section is turning brown. What should I do, I would like to save this tree and have it in my landscape. I live in Chicago.

Maxwell Cohn

Hi Emily, unfortunately, Summer is absolutely the worst time to plant a large tree. I fear that it's already gone and that HD gave you a "reasonable price" because they knew it was distressed (very common this time of year). I recommend seeking out a refund.

Lisa Becvar

We are considering planting arborvitae a long a 6ft fence to give additional privacy. They would be on a property that is waterfront on long island, but not at the edge of the water. So are they salt/wind tolerant and if so which type would you reccommend?

Mitzi Weil

Are any arborvitae deer resistant?

Maxwell Cohn

they don't seem to mess much with plicata, but occidentalis is definitely one of their preferred food sources.

Kay S

I am waterfront in Santa Cruz CA Can the American Pillar Arborvitae handle wind and salt spray?
Thanks :)

Patricia Vealey

Due to the heavy snow our arborvitae are bent over. Should we top them when spring arrives some are very tall.
Thank you

Maxwell Cohn

Hi Patricia ... this happens all the time with these plants. They are not very good choices for parts of the country where it snows or gets icy in the winter. Nonetheless, people really like them.

As for topping them ... they're your trees. You're free to do as you please with them. Just be warned that they're going to look pretty weird and chopped-off for several years as they sort themselves out. Also, when you "top" a tree, it responds by creating lots of upright, weak growth, which will make subsequent snow / ice events even more tragic.

Doris Zajec

During this past Tuesdays snowstorm, several of my arborvitae had branches bent to the ground. One appears to be split, so that one is ruined. What should I do with the rest of them. Once the snow melts, I’m hoping the spring back up. They’re huge - very tall - about the height of 2 of the 3 stories of my house. Should I have someone come and tie them to stand up? If the show doesn’t melt I’m thinking of leaving them and dealing with removal in the spring and Judy cutting my losses. They are already getting sparse due to the large numbers of deer that seem to think my backyard is their home. Any advice?

Maxwell Cohn

this sort of thing happens every winter when it snows and arborvitae are present. These particular trees are poorly suited for planting where wintry weather is the norm. They are also one of deer's favorite things to eat.

Without pictures, it's nearly impossible to suggest a path forward. I would probably have not planted them in the first place.

Catherine Berou

Hi, Can I plant the Thuja occidentalis 'Smaragd' in zone 9B? I have been looking for an evergreen shrub to plant in my front yard as a privacy screen. Please advise.


I bought five 2-foot-tall 'Emerald Green' arborvitae in December, Zone 5. The ground isn't frozen, so it's okay to plant them? What about how often to water them, other than the initial planting? Thanks!

Maxwell Cohn

hi Dennis. 100% of all trees that I've planted in December were dead by the next summer. In my world (USDA Zone 8a), the second week of October has proven to be the "sweet spot" for tree planting.

Andy Pink

Do Emerald Green Arborvitae get thinner and lose needles during the winter months (N Georgia - zone 7)

Maxwell Cohn

conifers never shrink unless somebody takes shears or pruners to them. They will, however, shed up to 30% of their old, internal foliage every year.

I have observed that deer really like to eat arborvitae. They'll definitely thin them to the trunk if they're hungry enough.

Isabel Mack

Our neighbor recently reached out to us concerned about our new privacy trees being toxic to their horse. We have planted 40 Thuja Green Giants a couple feet off of our property line. About half of those trees are parallel to our neighbors’ horses’s pasture fence. Internet searches have shown information saying they ARE and ARE NOT toxic to horses. Are these trees truly toxic to horses? We absolutely do not want to knowingly cause harm to an animal, but also want to have privacy for our family.

Maxwell Cohn

they are in no way toxic. In fact, Thuja is a well known favorite food of deer.


Hmm. I was asking about horses? Also deer don’t like these trees.

Maxwell Cohn

deer and horses are closely related enough that what would be toxic to a deer would also be toxic to a horse, just as if something is toxic to a chimpanzee, it would be toxic to a human.

Deer browsing is a very different problem in all areas depending on how much natural deer food is available. In my area, every arborvitae is deformed.


Hello. What are the major differences between emerald cedars and arborvitaes? I am looking to use either to create a small privacy wall / divider and am especially curious about the differences in size as they mature. Thanks

Maxwell Cohn

'Emerald Green' is a cultivar of arborvitae that was selected for tendency to stay green all winter instead of assuming the bronze cast that most arbs do. Growth rates are real similar.

Ronald Schlak

Ida, 'Emerald Green' or 'Smaragd' is occidentalis. Click go there (above). Hit the drop down arrow to search thru the trinomials or cultivars; see pictures & growth rates.

Denise Stob

We have a privacy row of Emerald Green arborvitae bushes that are over 6 feet tall at least five years old - one is getting very thin or see-through with rusty-brown branches that are unlike the normal loss of internal foliage. Many of the cones are brown & the inside branches also have a whitish look to them. Another bush has a brownish gray tinge that is noticeable against the brighter new growth. Do I need to spray a fungicide or insecticide on them?

David Olszyk

Hi Denise ... never spray a chemical product on anything until you're 100% certain of what you're dealing with. For example, if you're dealing with fungus, an insecticide will only kill a lot of beneficial insects and do nothing for the fungal infection.

Don Chapman

How tall will a green giant arborvitae get when planted in a large container ? 6 hours of sun. I just purchased 5 to screen deck in an urban area. Thanks

Jeannine Bibeault

What methods or what can I do to prevent deer from eating my arborvitae? Thank you.

Maxwell Cohn

you can try one of the deer sprays ... you can wrap the lower 4 to 5 feet with chicken wire ... you can have dogs frighten them away ... you can try planting something they prefer to eat ...

All of these will have limited effect. Arborvitae are one of deer's preferred food sources.

Jeannine Bibeault

Can "White Wooly Adelgids" infest an arborvitae?

Maxwell Cohn

arborvitae seems to be resistant to adelgids, but bagworms really like them.

Jerry Beilinson

Are the Thuja 'Green Giants' considered invasive in Southern New England? Do they have any negative ecological effects?

Maxwell Cohn

heavens no, Jerry. 'Green Giant' is a hybrid. Any seed they may produce will almost certainly be sterile. As far as "ecological effects" ... they get really big, really fast and photosynthesize like crazy. Any effects on the environment would be positive.

Jim Plumley

A neighbor has 8, maybe 10 30-foot tall arborvitae. Over the last several months (May-October) our security cameras have captured almost daily what I call "pollen blizzards" from maybe midnight until daybreak. It truly looks like a snow storm. Can these events be related to the arborvitae?

Eric Billman

I have several Thuja (not sure the species) in my house's front landscaping, located in NE South Carolina. Within the last 3 weeks (right before halloween) I've seen the interior leaves/needles get dull-to-bright orange and subsequently slough off. Is this normal? it started with one large tree, but is quickly spreading/occurring in all the other trees (6 in total). Advice would be appreciated before I call in someone to check about a fungicide.

Maxwell Cohn

yes; it's perfectly normal for conifers to lose up to 30% of their interior foliage every fall, more if it's been exceptionally hot and dry.


We have privacy rows of 6-10 year old’s.
What is a good fertilizer for them ?
16/16/16 or something else?

Ben Hughes

I transplanted 2 small arborvitae trees bought at Home Depot (about 18-24") in October 2021. They are beginning to have brown tips on several of their outer branches. I watered them 3 times over past 3-4 weeks with about 1 and 1/2 gallons in sprinkle can thinking they might need more H2O. We have had an unusually dry late fall early winter in central NC. Am I right to water them in this way and do you have other tips about the brown branches?


David Olszyk

Hi Ben ... what you describe sounds like a problem with the roots. Did you open up the root ball a bit prior to planting. Did you expose the root flare and ensure that you didn't bury it?


I have 20 'arborvites that were improperly pruned near bottom of tree- many branches hacked off with a hand axe. What can be done to save these trees from infection and insects?

Carolann Kapuscinski

We moved into a home with 6 thuja in our front flower bed. They are in front of rhododendron and azaleas blocking them from the sun. Soon they will be tall enough to block the windows. I don’t know what the previous owner was thinking. They are about 4 feet. I hate to throw them out. We have lots of room our back. Will they handle being transplanted? Suggestions please.

Ron Gibbs

We have hybrid arborvitae. They are quite tall! Do they stop growing? Should they be topped off?


We have planted 15 of these thuyas in the last two years. They have grown but this year, the branches at the top do not seem to be strong enough to hold themselves up. They appear to be weak. They are healthy looking but no strength. We water them thoroughly every day. My husband tied them together for support. Hoping that in time they will regain their strength and stand. Is there any suggestions as to why this is happening and what can we do to fix it. We live in British Columbia, Canada. Our zone is 5B.

John McGarry

I am from eastern Iowa and have tried 3 times to plant some Thuja Green Giants purchased on line, bare root. Each time I planted in early spring and the trees thrived through the summer, fall and even looked great through the winter. However, as soon as the frost came out of the ground they start turning brown and by the end of May they are 80% to 100% brown with no green under the bark. Once there I pronounce then dead. Spring is coming again and I don't want to give up. I built a fence with 18 of these at my last home 12 years ago and they are all alive today and over 20' tall. The only difference in the plant when I bought them was that the originals were potted. Does that make a difference? I contacted the University of Wisconsin last year and explained my issue and they blamed wind chill as my trees are not protected from the harsh winter winds that can develop wind chills to -30 degree. I'm looking for more advice because as I said before. I don't want to give up.