If trees had personalities, the northern white-cedar would be an introvert. It is unassuming, tending to be small in stature with narrow crowns. It is patient, growing slowly beneath the canopy of larger trees. It is fragile, with weak wood prone to decay when living. But just as people have hidden depths, so too does the northern white-cedar. It is persistent, growing quickly to take advantage of canopy openings when they occur. It is tenacious, living for centuries or even a millennium. It is resilient, thriving even with a high proportion of rotten wood, and resourceful, finding places to live where other trees don't prosper. It is constantly reinventing itself with branches that grow roots when resting on the moist ground. And people have long valued the tree. Native Americans used its lightweight, rot-resistant wood to make woven bags, floor coverings, arrow shafts, and canoe ribs. They extracted medicine from the leaves and bark to treat a variety of illnesses. A Haudenosaunee decoction of northern white-cedar is credited with saving the French explorer Jacques Cartier's crew from scurvy, and the French dubbed it l'arbre de vie: the tree of life. This tree similarly gives life to many creatures in North American forests, while providing fence posts, log homes, and shingles to people. But the northern white-cedar's future is uncertain. Here scientists Gerald L. Storm and Laura S. Kenefic describe the threats to this modest yet essential member of its ecosystem and call on all of us to unite to help it to thrive.
Gerald L. Storm was a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Department of Interior (Fish and Wildlife Service and National Biological Service), and served as an associate professor of wildlife management with Pennsylvania State University for twenty-five years, retiring in 1997.
Laura S. Kenefic is a research forester and team leader with the U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research Station, and faculty associate at the University of Maine.
"To paraphrase George Orwell, "All trees are equal, but some trees are more equal than others," and this lovely book is a testament to why the northern white-cedar stands "more equal" than most other species. In eloquent prose we first learn that "if trees had personalities, northern white-cedar would be an introvert [...] unassuming [...] patient [...] compliant [...] gentle," but then, with clarity and authority, the book documents its outsized ecological, economic, and cultural role, and the challenges it faces. A must-read for all naturalists and conservationists who share the species' range."
– Malcolm L. Hunter Jr., Professor Emeritus, University of Maine, and author of Wildlife, Forests and Forestry
"Northern white-cedar, the tree of life that survives for centuries in primeval swamp forests and crevices of harsh rocky cliffs, is the protagonist in this expertly crafted book. The tree's storied history, doubtful future, and its relationships with the environment, many species of wildlife and plants, and humans, unfold throughout the book."
– Lee E. Frelich, director, University of Minnesota Center for Forest Ecology