Arborvitae – Renewal – Pioneer of Evergreens (Wands)

Genus: Thuja – Family: Cupressaceae

When the spirt of arborvitae enters our life, it signals a time of renewal, ceremony and new beginnings.

Native to North America, the eastern arborvitae, Thuja occidentalis, (northern whitecedar) and western arborvitae, Thuja plicata (western redcedar or giant cedar) are often misidentified as cedars.

In 1536, Thuja occidentalis became the first tree of the “New World” that was brought to “Old World” Europe by French explorer Jacques Cartier. Cartier and his crew became ill with scurvy during an expedition in Canada. Members of an Iroquois tribe offered him hot tea made from the leaves and bark of an “Annedda” tree. When Cartier recovered, he brought seeds of this “miracle” tree to France. It was planted in the Kings medicinal gardens and named “l’arbor de vie,” which in Latin is arbor (tree) and vitae (life) or arborvitae, (the tree of life.)

Interest in its medicinal value as a source of vitamin C played an important role in the resurrection of botany as a science. In 1542, Jean Fernel, a leader in the French Renaissance, published “Physiologia,” which planted the seeds for modern medicine and botany. When the English began growing arborvitae they called it cedar, because it reminded them of the scent of cedar boxes imported from the Middle East. Since they had never seen a true cedar tree, they misidentified the distinct flattened scale-like leaves of the arborvitae as a cedar. This error was carried from Britain back to North America.

In the Ojibwe culture, arborvitae (eastern/northern whitecedar) Thuja occidentalis, or “Grandmother Cedar” is one of four sacred plants associated with the north direction in the medicine wheel.

Thuja plicata, or Pacific/western redcedar, can grow to be 230 feet tall.

The word Thuja means “Green Giant,” plicata refers to the pleat-like structure of its leaves. Some northwest tribes refer to themselves as “the people of the redcedar.” Thuja plicata was also used for the construction of totem poles and shelters dating back to 5000 BCE. The word “totem” means kinship group in Ojibwe. Totem poles were carved to honor ancestors, legends, clan lineages and events.

Message: We are being reminded to discern what is true. What we have been told is not always correct; it is up to us to learn the truth, speak up and honor our roots. This is a time to revisit our ancestral history and heal old wounds to refresh our vision and our ability to move forward with more clarity of purpose.

Challenge: Feeling betrayed or misunderstood. Being confused or angry for not knowing what to believe or who to believe. Something may be clouding our vision to see things clearly.