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The Truth About Cedar Trees

Pros & Cons About Cedar Trees

The Truth About Cedar TreesIf you guessed mesquite tree, it’s not the most hated tree, but maybe close second. The Ashe Juniper, aka “cedar tree”, is probably the most hated tree in Central Texas. Anything in Texas that involves fire, water issues and allergies can’t be good, right? From an allergy standpoint most people understand the hate, but is it possible the cedar tree has been given a bad rap?

Cedar trees prefer rocky, shallow, calcium rich soil and as a result, have rapidly spread across the Texas Hill Country. It’s an invasive species and can quickly multiply, choking out other plants. Texas cedar trees are a native species and are commonly called Mountain Cedar, Post Cedar, Mexican Cedar and Blueberry Cedar.

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Allergies – “Cedar Fever”

The number one reason the cedar tree is so disliked is due to the impact the cedar pollen has on Central Texan’s allergies. Cedar trees usually pollinate between Dec. 10th and March 1st and this can create hell on earth for millions of allergy sufferers known as “cedar fever”. Cedar fever can cause puffy, burning eyes, clogged nasal passages, sore throat, constant sneezing, and flu-like symptoms. Normally the highest levels of cedar pollen are found during the first three weeks of January. Male cedar trees emit the allergy causing pollen bombs. You can actually see cedar trees exploding with their allergy cloud of pollen.

Water Usage

It’s said a mature cedar can pull as much as 30 gallons a day of water from the soil. An oak tree of comparable size will use about 19 gallons a day. Ranchers have long complained about the water consumption of cedars. Numerous articles over the years have stated the cedar tree is a “waterhogging” plant and it deprives other plants, streams and springs of water. A study from Texas A & M states,  to the contrary, that with the increase of cedars, and other plants, there been an increase, not decrease of water in regional streams.  Many people grew up being told that cedar need to be removed at every opportunity due to its water consumption.  With conflicting information there’s much more to be said regarding this topic.

Fire Hazard & Controlled Burning

Cedar trees are considered a fire hazard due to the natural oils they contain, which is highly flammable. A cedar tree’s natural oils combined with the large surface area of the leaves makes cedar trees highly combustible, especially under low humidity conditions. They will ignite easier, burn faster and hotter than other native trees. Because of this, fire trucks won’t drive through heavy cedar to get to a fire, due to the possible danger to the firefighters and their equipment. As the population in Central Texas increases, the occurrence of fire has decreased and the spread of cedar increased. In rural areas, fire can actually be a useful tool in controlling the spread of cedars. Periodic burning of pasture land will not only eliminate existing cedars, it will also eliminate the seeds dropped by those trees.

Cedar Tree Removal

If you have areas that can’t be burned, the best way to remove them is with an excavator that has a hydraulic thumb. You can basically pluck the cedars out of the ground. Of course a bulldozer gets the job done too but an excavator disturbs much less soil. Cutting cedars by hand is fine as well, as long as you cut them below the very bottom branch, the tree shouldn’t grow back.

The Good

Can’t leave this post without pointing out a  few more positive things. Cedar trees do create habitat for wildlife, especially for two endangered songbirds, the golden-cheeked warbler and the black-capped vireo. Also cedars keep their leaves and stay green year round. Cedars make great natural privacy barriers in yards in communities. Cedars can also naturally help prevent erosion in areas where caliche type soils allow cedars to thrive and its more difficult for other plants to grow.

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