Appalachia Christmas Wildflowers & Trees Of Appalachia

Decorating for Christmas with Running Cedar

A few days ago Blind Pig Reader George asked about using Running Cedar at Christmas:

Yes, the Holly trees really come into their own once the deciduous leaves have fallen, which seems to have happened unusually late this year. Does anyone gather “running cedar” anymore? It’s that cedar-looking evergreen ground vine that grows in patches on certain low slopes of wooded hillsides. Many years ago people made it into wreaths and other Christmas decorations.

Since George asked, I thought it would be a good time for me to re-publish a post I wrote back in 2013 about running cedar. Hope you enjoy it!

running cedar

A few weeks ago Blind Pig reader Carol Stuart mentioned using running cedar as Christmas greenery when she lived in West Virginia. I was glad Carol mentioned running cedar because I often overlook what’s right under my nose.

running pine

Running cedar is also called running pine, Christmas green, creeping pine, ground pine and ground cedar. The ground hugging plant grows near our house. It’s been creeping down Granny and Pap’s bank for the last 40 years till it’s almost reached the bottom. The Latin name of the plant is Lycopodium digitatum. You can see from the photo-it grows along a small running vine which makes the plant perfect for draping or circling Christmas decorations.

greenery for christmas

The pretty evergreen really doesn’t need any further decoration. It already has the look of Christmas about it which makes it easy to see why some folks call it Christmas green.

using greenery from your yard for Christmas

But I thought I’d give a technique B.Ruth described recently in a comment a try. I placed a small amount of flour, barely a tablespoon, and a sprinkling of glitter into a plastic bag. I wet a piece of running cedar lightly, placed it in the bag, and while holding the top closed tightly, I shook the bag around a few times.

You can see from the photo how the dusting of white shows the delicate details of the plant and gives it a snowy look. I read ground cedar was endangered in some areas of the country, but it seems to be thriving here in Western NC.


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  • Reply
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    April 11, 2022 at 7:11 am

    Awesome article.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    December 8, 2016 at 4:06 pm

    b.Ruth – I realized you weren’t asking the question of me but I have had some training in firefighting and thought I might have something to add. I realize the question about the fire burning down into the ground isn’t for me either but I can offer some insight. The fires sometimes burn down into dead and rotting stumps where they can smolder unnoticed for weeks if a good soaking rain don’t quench them. Similarly, fire will follow the roots of old dead trees if it is dry enough and reemerge some distance away where more abundant fuel might result in a new outbreak.
    PS: I have spent my entire life as a post script, an also ran, an aspirant. I have always played second fiddle unless someone else claims that position.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    December 8, 2016 at 10:16 am

    and Jim…yes, I know the difference between you and Don! Ha
    Don tends to “walk the bush and meditate with nature”! You tend to “hide in the bush and call them in for a good shot at nature”! Just kiddin’ Jim!
    I really meant to include you when I posted my concern. I guess I was just thinking of Don and his wife hiking in the mountains and the wildflower pictures he has posted in the past.
    Yes, I know the fires are basically good for the forest. However, from some reports, it got so cotton-picking hot that they said it was still burning deep into the ground and was a concern until the ground could get a deep soaking rain!
    Thanks Jim for your response,
    thank you Tipper,
    PS also thanks to Ed

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    December 8, 2016 at 2:38 am

    For Tamela, It is against some laws in some states to transport plants across state lines without inspection and permits. Our county is one that you can’t share plants even to another county in the state of Tennessee. The reason, there are many little critters that other states do not have nor do they want them. One of ours happens to be the “Fire Ant”! There have been many beetle infestations of different sorts the state is trying to control at this point. Of course the fire ant is in the soil. It is believed that we acquired, (even though it was migrating upward to Tennessee from the deep South), was transported in burlap wrapped trees and shrubs as well as some container plants,
    Also the running cedar is very difficult to transplant. One might gather the spores and distribute them in an area and hope they germinate over time. Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    December 7, 2016 at 9:35 pm

    I’m not Don, but to all who are worried about the fires damaging the native plants and wildflowers, don’t worry. A few will be gone but will return in a few years. In the meantime an equal number, that have been lying, waiting for decades for a wildfire, will flourish. Old favorites will soon be forgotten and new ones will emerge. The years following a fire are like God planting a new garden. Most of the plants will be the same but in different places. Some will be like new discoveries having been unseen for generations.
    Wildfires are a part of nature too, but human interference has suppressed them until, when they do start, they can’t be stopped. A fast moving fire doesn’t cause much damage to the forest floor unless followed by heavy rains that erode the soil. Here in the southern Appalachians fires are most prevalent in the late fall when the leaves are down and most plants are dormant. This years extreme drought has caused the danger and the damage to multiply.
    People shouldn’t built their homes in the woods! My ancestors had wildfires every few years. When they didn’t occur naturally, they started them themselves. Fires opened up the woodland to new growth. My ancestors kept animals that foraged in the woods during the spring and summer. My ancestors’ homes were surrounded by the forest but they kept the borders back far enough that their homesteads were safe from these inevitable wildfires.
    People shouldn’t build their homes in the woods! Nor their businesses! They can’t be protected when trees and bushes grow right next to them. When structures are built close together it’s those on the perimeter that pose the danger of a fire spreading from building to building.
    A cabin in the woods is aesthetically pleasing but incredibly foolish. It’s like looking mother nature in the face and saying “bring it on.” Maybe foolish is the wrong word. Maybe suicide fits better. Or homicide if you sell or rent it without informing the client of the fire danger.
    A cabin in the woods is more appealing to the eye than the same cabin in the middle of a clearing. Therefore, it demands a premium when sold or rented but in the fall when the leaves are down and it hasn’t rained in months, it becomes a death trap.
    The hurricane force winds someone mentioned are not just one other factor in the damage those poor people in Sevier County suffered. The high winds are a creation of fire itself. Heat rises. That’s why your chimney draws and smoke comes out the top of it. The fire heats the air above it causing it to rise. When the air rises it can’t leave a vacuum below so it draws cooler air in at the base which quickly is heated and rises also. When a fire is on the side of a mountain it can only draw air laterally and upslope because the mountain blocks it on one side. The steeper the grade the faster wind. It is a continuous cycle and if the fire is intense enough will create that hurricane force wind which in turn propels the fire on up the mountainside.
    Generally speaking wildfires are good for the forest. Animals who live there have to flee and sometimes get trapped and lose their lives. People are no different except we can reason and plan. An adequate barrier and an escape route are essential in fire safety. Just like fire drills in school, we should have a plan in our homes or wherever we go.
    I am sorry for the loss of life and damage to property those people in East Tennessee suffered and would not ever suggest that they deserved it, but it didn’t have to happen the way it did. Somebody should seen this coming. Somebody should have had a plan. A governmental agency that has the authority to say “You can’t built there unless…..” and the authority to visit the property to ascertain that the rules are being obeyed. Sure it would cost more money but if it prevents unnecessary loss of life then it is money well spent.
    Here is Burke County, N.C. we had the Chestnut Hill Fire. It started in the South Mountains State Park and burned for almost a month. It burned 6435 acres. There was no loss of human life nor damage to property unless it was somebody’s tree stand.
    The Tellico Fire in Macon and Swain Counties burned for a month also and covered 14,000 acres. There was no fatalities and minimal damage to property.
    Both of these areas are considered mostly wilderness where people hunt, fish, camp, hike or just visit. When they return to their favorite spots next spring it will have changed but will still be a vibrant and exciting place to be.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    December 7, 2016 at 9:04 pm

    Tipper–I ain’t Don (he’s my homely younger brother, though probably not as homely as me), but maybe I can fill in and help a bit in answering B. Ruth’s very appropriate question about the impact of the fires. She may have even had the two of us confused. We are both keen amateur naturalists, although in my case I would strongly emphasize the significance of the word amateur.
    For the most part, strange though it may seem, wildfires are actually quite good for nature. They clear the understory, produce new growth that is greatly beneficial to many types of wildlife, and some plants (such as the longleaf pine, which of course isn’t found in the Smokies) depend on fire in their cycle of life.
    It has long been standard knowledge among wildlife biologists, with Herbert Stoddard being perhaps the stellar example, that there is nothing to match controlled burning when it comes to being beneficial to certain types of wildlife (gallinaceous birds, deer, and others) not to mention succession plants such as huckleberries and chinquapins.
    In other words, for all the human tragedy connected with the fire, the wild lands will likely fare quite well. The one exception, and it may have occurred to some degree, will be in places where the fires were so intense and burned for so long that they in effect “fried” the soil. For the most part though, one would hope that didn’t happen. Nature’s hand has wonderful curative powers, and in that we can all take hope.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Nancy Schmidt
    December 7, 2016 at 7:09 pm

    In central North Carolina they call this Trailing Cedar. 40 years ago when I briefly lived in Chapel Hill, the ecological folks were warning people not too continue taking too much for decoration, because it seemed to be seen less and less in nearby woods. I was from Kentucky and had never seen the beautiful greens before.
    I was glad to hear of it again in this post.

  • Reply
    December 7, 2016 at 5:51 pm

    Lynda-thank you for the comment! I’m not sure if running cedar is the same thing as turkeys foot but it could be. Maybe someone else who’s heard it called that will chime in. Have a great evening!

  • Reply
    December 7, 2016 at 3:37 pm

    I was fumbling around on Youtube awhile ago and found a song back in the early 70’s.
    It is by Pap, Ray, and Henry: He Showed Me What was Best for Me.
    I recon that was Henry that Pap introduced me to at Jimmy’s Pick and Grin a few years ago. …Ken

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    December 7, 2016 at 2:05 pm

    Thank you, Garland David for the beautiful poetic prayer.
    I remember Running Cedar from a childhood in Appalachia. I don’t remember ever seeing it in Indiana. I do remember Bittersweet and its berries, picked and plucked to near extinction for Autumn decoration.
    Many of our mountains, over here in Blount and Sevier Counties, especially the forest floors, are burned horribly, making me wonder about the loss in numbers of native plants that grow there.

  • Reply
    December 7, 2016 at 1:03 pm

    I never thought about using the Running Ceder at Christmastime. Maybe it’s because there wasn’t enough of it, but sprinkling flour on it makes it look Snowy. Speaking of Snow, the weather girl just announced we might get some in the Higher Elevations tomorrow night. I love Snow and hope she’s right. …Ken

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    December 7, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    Running Cedar or ground pine or running pine and abundance of other names was on the endangered species list here in East Tennessee according to a Ecology expert friend of ours. He said that local habitat was disappearing so I certainly understand. It is slow growing and a stand can be extinguished by over gathering in short order just like Galax, Ginseng, etc.
    Ours grew under a huge stand of Pine trees. We first found a small little area about two feet in space, it was years before it spread. Sometimes disappearing for months at a time before reappearing. When we had a fire under the oversize Lob lolly pines one year, I panicked about my Running Cedar, we couldn’t find it anywhere. It never grew in that area again, but had moved nearly a football length away and slowly came back under an area that didn’t have the fire. It never grew in that area again. It is in the club moss family and doesn’t transplant well at all.
    My Mother taught me the flour trick to use on large Cedar branches, pine, ground pine, pine cones, or even bare branches. She said, as a girl that they used flour as snow back when she was a girl that would have been before the depression. Think about it! So much safer than spraying with those chemical spray snows of today. Sometimes the old ways are the best ways. We used to take the cut off branches of our Christmas cedar tree when I was a girl, trim them smaller and make arrangements with the snow floured pieces.
    Maybe Don can answer this question for me or help somewhat. I have been concerned about our wildflowers and plants where the acres of forest burned in East Tennessee and North Carolina. I know that natural fires are a part of living and good for the forest. But in these areas I wonder if the seeds of some plants could be destroyed by the fire. I suppose underground roots, bulb producing plants would survive but seeds and or spores of some plants lay dormant for as long as 50 years and I wonder if new seeds and spores of these plants died! The deep one may be OK! I think of all the beautiful azaleas, Pinkster, pink and orange honeysuckle, rhododendrons, Ivy/Laurel, the low growing native blueberries, that were burned. It just makes me sick to think of it! The moisture loving little salamanders living near the banks of dropping streams etc.t
    Of course, you probably noticed that I was consumed with the news of the fire and after the one post could not even post a comment for several days. I pray for all that was lost, the families of loved ones lost and the flora and fauna of our beautiful mountains.

  • Reply
    Carol Rosenbalm
    December 7, 2016 at 12:13 pm

    I’ve heard of this type of greenery but I don’t have any on my property. There is a program called heartland series here in East Tennessee and they had a story on galax plant that grows in the great smoky mountain park. The mountain people would pick the galax and go to knoxville and sell it to the rich people because they liked the shiny leaves the plant had for Christmas decorations. It’s an evergreen and galax looks like it’s been polished with a wax type material but that’s just the way it grows. Of course there is a fine if you pick it in the park. It doesn’t grow in the valley that I know of. But it’s beautiful! I’ve seen galax grow on the Walker sister trail in the smokies. It grows on the sides of the trail and it’s very visible once you learn how shiny the leaves are. Please remember our area because of the fires which have been within 5 miles of me and the citizens of Gatlinburg. Smokies strong and they are getting donations left and right. But this will not be a be an easy fix this is going to take months maybe years. Will your readers please keep East Tennessee and the smokies in your prayers.
    Carol Rosenbalm

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    December 7, 2016 at 10:32 am

    Seventy-five years ago today the American fleet at Pearl Harbor was attacked. Thousands of sailors were killed or maimed there and in the ensuing years of war at sea.
    The Navy Hymn
    Eternal Father, strong to save,
    Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
    Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep
    Its own appointed limits keep;
    Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
    For those in peril on the sea!
    O Christ! Whose voice the waters heard
    And hushed their raging at Thy word,
    Who walked’st on the foaming deep,
    And calm amidst its rage didst sleep;
    Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
    For those in peril on the sea!
    Most Holy Spirit! Who didst brood
    Upon the chaos dark and rude,
    And bid its angry tumult cease,
    And give, for wild confusion, peace;
    Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
    For those in peril on the sea!
    O Trinity of love and power!
    Our brethren shield in danger’s hour;
    From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
    Protect them wheresoe’er they go;
    Thus evermore shall rise to Thee
    Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.

  • Reply
    December 7, 2016 at 9:56 am

    This post makes me wish I had spent more time learning about what nature offers for any occasion. I had seen running cedar oftentimes, but never had any curiosity about the name or use. My daughter still remembers some of my efforts to make Christmas not so commercial, and we did string popcorn one year. Too time consuming, so that never became a tradition. Thanks, Tipper, for always sharing new information.
    As Eva mentioned, my heart goes to the families of victims of the fire. Growing up with forest all around, I can recall occasional fires in the woods that surrounded everybody I knew. If possible it seems even more tragic here at the holidays. Dolly has shown her giving spirit by giving to the families of this disaster.

  • Reply
    December 7, 2016 at 9:26 am

    I thought this looked like a good groundcover for my gardens so checked it out on the National Plant Data Base and at as well as Dave’s Garden. First concern was that it seems firmly anchored between the Atlantic and the Mississippi (I’m in Central Texas).
    I checked out the Growing Conditions hoping I could encourage it West of the Mississippi:
    Water Use: Low – – check
    Light Requirement: Part Shade , Shade – – check
    Soil Moisture: Dry , Moist – – usually dry here -check
    Drought Tolerance: High – – definitely necessary – wonder how high “high” is –
    Cold Tolerant: yes – – rarely below freezing for very long
    Heat Tolerant: yes – – sounding better and better – again how much heat –
    Soil pH: Acidic (pH<6.8) - - OOPS! Our limestone caliche is anything but acidic 🙁
    Soil Description: Well-drained, acidic, rich or poor soils. - well drained - yes - poor soil - yes
    Conditions Comments: Prefers dry conditions but tolerates some moisture. - that works - - just need the acidity
    I'd still like to try to grow some if anyone could send me a few sprigs. I have an acid bed in which I grow gardenias and camelias (well, I attempt to) and this would make a good ground cover in that bed. I also have two liveoak understory beds. I've never checked the acidity but that should be a little more acid than most of our ground.
    Has anyone grown it in the southwest? or knows where I could find it locally?
    It would be great to grow my own Christmas Greenery even if it might take several years to dare to harvest any.

  • Reply
    Lynda Randolph
    December 7, 2016 at 8:45 am

    I remember my Mom getting something like this from the woods to use for Christmas. She called it Turkeys Beard. Do you know what this is or is the same?

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, PhD
    December 7, 2016 at 8:17 am

    Well Tipper: Running Cedar is one tree/plant that my Daddy did not introduce to me. Walking in the woods on a Sunday afternoon with Daddy is probably what has today made me the dedicated gardener!
    Now to a sadder thought: The Gatlinburg WILDFIRE! The lost folks are heavy on our mind here in the mountains of East Tennessee. Almost twenty people lost their lives in the area. Two little girls and their mother perished in a dreadful devastating wildfire! The school’s spoke person said the school family lost its heart when the bright-eyed, giggly sisters and their mother were lost.
    Surely the sadness has left many folks reeling in their sadness! Hope your day is good!
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    December 7, 2016 at 8:09 am

    Tipper–While the plant apparently is on the threatened list in some locales, in my experience in lots wandering the woods over the years, particularly in the Carolinas, Tennessee, and Virginia, running cedar is common as pig tracks. I see sprawling patches of it, sometimes covering the better part of an acre with a solid carpet of green, when I am out hunting.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Kimberly Burnette
    December 7, 2016 at 8:06 am

    WHen I was growing up, my grandpa and grandma showed me the running cedar in the woods behind our house. They talked about how they used it to decorate the house when they were growing up. After that, I always gathered it and used it to make garlands. In recent years, I have not used it, but now I am in the mood to search the woods where I live now!
    I love the idea of using the flour to make it look like it has a dusting of snow!
    I hope that you have a Merry Christmas!

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    December 7, 2016 at 8:00 am

    It is a beautiful decoration
    Do you get the Cedar scent?

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 7, 2016 at 7:43 am

    It does look like it was created to be a Christmas decoration though I must admit it never crossed my mind when I’ve seen it growing. I’m not much of a decorator but I saw your tree yesterday and it is beautiful! You always do such lovely decorating!

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