What Do Arborvitae Trees Look Like?

Arborvitae, frequently varieties of Thuja occidentalis, but additionally Thuja plicata or even Platycladus orientalis, are most frequently sloping- or even cylindrical-shaped tiny trees or shrubs which come in various shades of green. Arborvitaes are generally used as hedges or screens, although some specimens produce very good accent plants in borders or beds. Arborvitaes are hardy to U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 2 through 9, based on variety.


With arborvitae, you may get a brief, 12-inch-tall tree or even a 50-foot-tall tree. Their good variety in height brings to their many distinct uses around the landscape. Degroot’s Spire (Thuja occidentalis “Degroot’s Spire”), hardy to USDA zones 3 through 8, is a shapely tree that grows to 20 feet tall. Golden Tuffet (Thuja occidentalis “Golden Tuffet”) only reaches around 3 feet tall. The green giant arborvitae (Thuja “Green Giant”), hardy in zones 4 through 8, grows quickly around 30 feet tall.


Arborvitaes vary fit almost as much as they do in height. As an instance, Green Giant, Emerald and Degroot’s Spire are all prime example of the arborvitae’s typical conical, pyramidal shape with broad bottoms that taper toward the top. Golden Tuffet, Golden Globe (Thuja occidentalis “Golden Globe”) and Fire Chief (Thuja occidentalis “Congabe”), all hardy through zone 8, are shorter, globular arborvitaes. Still others hold different shapes, such as the weeping threadleaf arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis “Filiformis”), hardy in USDA hardiness zones 4 through 8. This variety has a moderate weeping form contrary to other arborvitaes.


Arborvitaes are evergreen, meaning they keep their color throughout winter. That having been said, they come in various shades of green and several other colors. Morgan’s Chinese arb (Thuja orientalis “Morgan”), indigenous to Australia and hardy in USDA zones 5 through 8, has a unique lime green foliage in summer which turns into a deep, purplish crimson in the fall. Golden Tuffet and Fire Chief are both green with hints of orange, yellow and red on the ends of the leaves.

Leaf Shape

Arborvitaes are most easily recognized by their leaf shape, though this feature changes slightly depending on the cultivar. In most cases, the leaves are flat and scalelike on upward-turned divisions. These horizontal leaves have been treasured in evergreen decorations such as boughs and wreaths since they add soft texture among other evergreen leaves. Some varieties have a spindly leaf. Fire Chief and Golden Tuffet are two examples of a slimmer, spindly leaf type.

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