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Bible Encyclopedias

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Arbor Vitae

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ARBOR VITAE (Tree of Life), a name given by Clusius to species of Thuja. The name Thuja, which was adopted by Linnaeus from the Thuya of Tournefort, seems to be derived from the Greek word Obos, signifying sacrifice, probably because the resin procured from the plant was used as incense. The plants belong to the natural order Coniferae, tribe Cupressineae (Cypresses). Thuja occidentalis is the Western or American arbor vitae, the Cupressus Arbor Vitae of old authors. It is a native of North America, and ranges from Canada to the mountains of Virginia and Carolina. It is a moderate-sized tree, and was introduced into Britain before 1597, when it was mentioned in Gerard's Herbal. In its native country it attains a height of about 50 ft. The leaves are small and imbricate, and are borne on flattened branches, which are apt to be mistaken for the leaves. When bruised the leaves give out an aromatic odour. The flowers appear early in spring, and the fruit is ripened about the end of September. In Britain the plant is a hardy evergreen, and can only be looked upon as a large shrub or low tree. It is often cut so as to form hedges in gardens. The wood is very durable and useful for outdoor work, such as fencing, posts, etc. Another species of arbor vitae is Thuja orientalis, known also as Biota orientalis. The latter generic name is derived from the Greek adjective /Slljtos, formed from ( Los, life, probably in connexion with the name "tree of life." This is the Eastern or Chinese arbor vitae. It is a native of China. It was cultivated in the Chelsea Physick Garden in 1752, and was believed to have been sent to Europe by French missionaries. It has roundish cones, with numerous scales and wingless seeds. The leaves, which have a pungent aromatic odour, are said to yield a yellow dye. There are numerous varieties of this plant in cultivation, one of the most remarkable of which is the variety pendula, with long, flexible, hanging, cord-like branches; it was discovered in Japan about 1776 by Carl Peter Thunberg, a pupil of Linnaeus, who made valuable collections at the Cape of Good Hope, in the Dutch East Indies and in Japan. The variety pygmaea forms a small bush a few inches high.

Thuja gigantea, the red or canoe cedar, a native of north-western America from southern Alaska to north California, is the finest species, the trunk rising from a massive base to the height of 150 to 200 ft. It was not introduced to Britain till 1853. It is one of the handsomest of conifers, forming an elongated cone of foliage, which in some gardens has already reached 70 or 80 ft. in height. It thrives in most kinds of soils. The timber is easily worked and used for construction, especially where exposed to the weather.

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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Arbor Vitae'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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