What is it? It’s eastern redcedar. That’s not a typo, redcedar is apparently all one word.
What do the nerds call it? Juniperus virginiana, meaning Virginian juniper
Who is it related to? Cupressaceae, or, the cypress family which includes red and white cedars, giant sequoia, as well as coast and dawn redwoods.
How can you tell it is what it is? This is one that I thought would be difficult to identify, but from what I can tell, the eastern redcedar is the only native tree-like plant here in Michigan that has these scaly sort of needles. Along with needle shape, the little blue “berries” instead of larger woody cones are also a good indication.
Discussion: It turns out those berries are actually a form of cone, just like on many other evergreens. Their small shape makes them easily eaten by birds, especially cedar waxwings, who were named after the tree in question. Out in more open country, stands and lines of cedars can be found along fence lines where the birds perch after eating out of the tree.
I have been able to identify the wood of this species long before the tree itself due to past woodworking projects. It is a lightweight softwood that has a beautiful red and beige hue to it that is fairly unique. Though it is a wood that is prone to splintering, it is both rot resistant and moths and bugs dislike it, making it a good choice for fence posts, bird houses, as well as those cedar chests that you store blankets in. Apparently Baton Rouge was named after sticks of red cedar that were posted as hunting territory markers by the local Native American tribes.
The eastern redcedar in our yard has been a favorite spot for the birds at our feeders to run to at any sign of danger, mainly one of us being out and about in the yard. The dense branches hide them very well, and you can only tell if one is there as it comes and goes.
As a tree, it is known to be a bit of a pest. It is a pioneer species, meaning that it is often one of the first trees to sprout in areas that have been cleared or burned out, which often includes areas that are being set up for farming. Eastern redcedar also does not play well around apple trees and their orchards, as it is a carrier for a fungal infection that severely hurts the apple trees.