Emerald Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd’) is one of those trees that everyone seems to know. They’re a really popular screening tree, which is why you see them all over neighborhoods in Virginia.
As I’ve been researching plants for these blog posts, I’ve been digging around (ha!) to try and learn why certain plants have the names they do. Like the actual cultivar name for Emerald Arborvitae, ‘Smaragd’. It sounds like something Tolkien would come up with. Is there a fascinating backstory? No. ‘Smaragd’ means ‘Emerald’ in Danish, and this particular flavor of tree is from Denmark. Womp womp. But all is not lost!
We have poutine because of arborvitae! Well, in a roundabout sort of way. I’ve always wondered why it’s called arborvitae, since that means tree of life. It turns out that Native Americans taught early French settlers that arborvitae foliage could help prevent scurvy. If French settlers all died off from scurvy we wouldn’t have Canada, and then we wouldn’t have fries and gravy.
Emerald arborvitae grow 12 to 15 feet tall and have a spread of only 3 to 4 feet, which is why landscape designers love them so much. They’re one of the few trees that can reliably screen a patio from the neighbors and not devour the entire backyard. Emerald arbs prefer full sun, and the shadier their location the sparser and rattier they look.
Perhaps the most important caution about Emerald arborvitae is what do about planting them in areas with lots of deer. In a word? DON’T. Emerald arborvitae are like delicious candy to deer. And because deer aren’t nearly as tall as the trees, you end up with some unfortunate shapes.
If you need screening, though, and you’re in a neighborhood where deer aren’t that big an issue, you’ll love Emerald arborvitae.