Running Cedar is not cedar at all, but is instead a member of the clubmoss family, which also isn't a moss, but is rather more closely related to ferns. Running Cedar is an evergreen, staying a vibrant green year round. There are many members of the clobmoss family with Running Cedar being part of the fan clubmoss grouping.
The plant gains its name from the appearance of its leaves, which resemble those of the cedar. Vertical stems sprout from rhizomes, a system of sideways sprouting stems which allows the plant to spread its territory. These vertical stems are from 6-10 inches in height and are in turn crowned by flat branches which are shaped like fans. The branches end in leaves which resemble those of cedar trees except they are flat whereas cedar leaves are more rounded. The leaves are leathery and medium-to-deep green. The running part of the name comes from its tendency to 'run' along the ground by means of extending its rhizomes.
The plant grows in coniferous to mixed coniferous/deciduous forests where there is shade and a coverlet of dead leaves. The rhizomes spread underneath this leafy carpeting, showing only the foliage to the casual eye. It favors soils which are somewhat dry, though the leaf cover tends to maintain moisture. It can also grow in fields which are liberally supplied with bushes, low shrubs, and smaller trees.
In fall the plant produces small cones which distribute spores, enabling the plant to reproduce. These cones are narrowly tapered and are of a green color which dry into a dun/tan color. Cones can be from 1 to 2.5 inches in height.
Sometimes several plants cluster together in a colony, providing a dense low ground cover. This dense cover provides cover for a number of the smaller denizens of the woods such as mice, spiders, small frogs, salamanders, etc.
The plant is not prolific in terms of taking over territory, being rather slow growing. It is not a food source for animals or birds. It's relatively restricted to its preferred territory so isn't a threat to agriculture. The main usage to which humans put it is in decorations. In times past, before plastic and glass became de rigeur, many people used it for holiday wreaths, a role it still fulfills to a lesser degree. Because it has been harvested for this usage, in some areas it is an endangered plant. Patches of running cedar which are over harvested can disappear or, at the least, take years to regenerate. The plant is difficult to transplant and/or propagate. It is generally suggested that other plants be selected for ground cover.
Running Cedar is also known by a number of other names, some of which follow:
- Christmas Green
- Creeping Jenny
- Creeping Pine
- Ground Pine
- Ground Cedar
- Running Pine
The range of the plant is from Newfoundland to Ontario, southward to Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and the Carolinas.