Red Cedar – Pephaxwe - (Pep-hah-kway)

 red cedar trees

Red cedar is a sacred plant to the Piscataway. It is used in ceremonies for purification. Always green and full of life, Piscataway ancestors saw this and its red center core as representing the life-blood of all animals, including man.

Throughout the park, you will find plant identification signs. The signs tell the story of how each plant is significant to the Piscataway people and provides the plant name in the Piscataway dialect of the Algonquin language.

Photo: R. Harley/Accokeek Foundation

A Further Piscataway Perspective

In the fall when most of the plant world transitions for their long winter sleep, the Red Cedar is an exception. Always green, and full of life, our ancestors saw this and its red center core as representing the life-blood of all the animals; to include man.

Red Cedar, along with Tobacco and Sweet Grass, is one of our historically sacred plants. We continue to use it in our ceremonies for purification purposes. Our ancestors taught us that before a person can be healed, or heal someone else, they must first be cleansed of any bad feelings, harmful thoughts, or negative energy. In this way, we are prepared to walk in a sacred manner and may be helped by the spirit world.

A common way to spiritually cleanse the body is to burn the cedar, and take the smoke in your hands, and symbolically wash away any negativity. We call this smudging. Red Cedar is also burned when praying so that our prayers will rise on the smoke and be carried to the Creator.

Red Cedar and the Piscataway People

Mario Harley (Piscataway, Wild Turkey Clan) discusses the use and cultural significance of the red cedar tree to the Piscataway People. Credit: National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, NOAA. Please contact the Piscataway Tribal Council to request authorization prior to using or reproducing this video.