Posted 02-07-2004 at 06:08:35
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Yes, it's a common name for many types of trees and shrubs, including Cedar, white and red. Back in the 1500s, the French were using the term "arborvitae" for all kinds of stuff in the New World including hemlock, white pine, sassafrass, and cedar. Translates to "tree of life" and they were using the term for just about any conifer that had vitamin C in it. I don't think Jacques Cartier knew about the vitamin C, but the local Indians told him to eat it to cure scorbutis (today known as scurvy).
To be technical, Arborvitae, as a common name can be American, Eastern, False, Giant, Hiba, Japanese, Korean, Oriental, Russian, Western, White Cedar, and probably more. This is why you really need the scientific name to know what the tree is.