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Western Red Cedar Tree

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Western Red Cedar Tree

The western red cedar is not a cedar at all, it is in a category of false cedars.  

False cedars is the label given to trees that plant finders and explorers incorrectly called cedar because of their aromatic bark. Many of the false cedars aren't biologically related to each other. 

The western red cedar is amongst the most widely spread trees in the Pacific northwest of America and has been naturalized in Britain. 

We can find the tree growing anywhere from sea level to a maximum of 2,290m (7510ft). Besides growing in lush forests, it can be found in swamps to mountain sides.

Western red cedar prefers shady, cool, moist habitats. It is most abundant along streams, seeps, bogs, and wet bottomlands and usually grows in mixed conifer stands. 

Therefore, they have introduced it into other temperate zones in Europe, Australia (south of Sydney), New Zealand, Hawaii and the eastern united states as far north as central New York.<

Quick Facts

Scientific Name

Thuja plicata



Mature Height

 65 to 70m (210 to 230 ft) 

Oldest Example

 1000+ years - oldest 1460 years

What else is it known as?

The scientific name of the western red cedar is Thuja plicata . It also carries the name of Pacific red cedar, giant or western arborvitae (Latin for tree of life)Because of the sizes it can grow, it is sometimes called giant cedar 

Occasionally it is referred  as a shinglewood. 

Also known as plain old Cedar. 

western red cedar tree

Western Red Cedar Tree

What is the size of the Western REd Cedar?

The western red cedar can grow to a giant size, from 65 to 70m (210 to 230ft) tall with trunks that can range 3 to 7m (10 to 23ft) in diameter.  

A solitary tree may have a crown that reaches the ground, but where trees have grown close together the crown will only be at the top where it can get enough light. 

The tree can live for a very long time, certainly over a 1000 years – there is an example that has been confirmed to be over 1460 years old. 

We can find the tallest tree in Clackamas county, Oregon, at a height of 187 ft and has a trunk of a 11ft in diameter.

We know the biggest tree as the Quinault Giant in Washington State; it is not as tall at 174 ft but has a trunk of 19.5 ft

western red cedar cones

What are the fruits or seeds of the Western REd Cedar?

Simple round flowers bloom in late autumn and give the tree a golden appearance 

The tree grows pollen cones that shed their yellow pollen in spring. The pollen cones are smaller than the seed cones. Moreover, they are produced later at 3 to 4 mm (0.12 to 0.16 in) long. However, they will initially be red or purple.

The western red cedar produces seed cones which are usually between 10 to 18 cm (0.4 to 0.7 in) in length and somewhere between 4 to 5 mm (0.16 to 0.20 in) wideThe one will have 8 to 12 overlapping scales, sometimes unusually 14. 

The seed cones, shaped like rosebuds, are initially green or yellow and will gradually turn brown into fall, 6 months after the pollination. 

When the seed cone opens the seeds that are 4 to 5 mm (0.16 to 0.20 in) long and 1 mm (0.04 in) wide, with a narrow papery wing down each side. 

western red cedar leaves

What do the leaves look like?

The tree grows flat sprays of foliage with scale-like leaves. Furthermore, the sprays grow in opposite pairs at 90 degrees to each other. 

The sprays are green above and green, marked with whitish stomatal bands below; they are strongly aromatic 

The leaves are 1 to 4 mm (0.04 to 0.16 in) long and 1 to 2 mm (0.04 to 0.08 in) broad on most foliage sprays. 

The trees take on a pyramid shape, they're relatively thin, scaly leaves or spines growing from their droopingbranchlets–the long green "fingers" of the trees that spread out from the larger proper J shaped branches. They appear to be a lighter green on top and a deeper, waxy green below. 


western red cedar bark

What does the Western Red Cedar bark look like?

The bark of the western red cedar is a deep reddish brown.  

We prize the bark for its durability, water resistance, and its flexibility. They peel strips of bark up to 27 feet long from straight tree trunks by making a single cut and pulling upwards. Carefully they separate the strips into layers, the soft fibres being used for clothing, mats and even towels. They can weave the narrow strands of the bark into baskets and hats.

Traditionally they made the branches into rope, fish traps and baskets.

The soft red-brown timber has a tight, straight grain and few knots. We value it for its distinct appearance, aroma, and its high natural resistance to decay, being extensively used for outdoor construction in north America as posts, decking, shingles, and siding.

How to identify the Western Red Cedar?

The thick, fluted trunk with grey to reddish fibrous bark is the easiest way to identify, that with the branches which are often shaped as a j on it side, with the end pointing slightly up. 

As you can see in the video below, the smell from the leaves is another way to identify with the distinctive smell like pineapple when crushed.

What wildlife is the Western Red Cedar valuable to?

In North America, the Western Red Cedar in northern forest settings will be a hideout for bears, raccoons and skunks. Where there are trees on the outskirts of towns, close to forests, these can draw the animals into town. 

Deer are fond of eating the saplings and seeds all year round, Vancouver islands black-tailed deer rely on the trees for food.  

Elk and Bears may even feed on the trees. 

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