Cal Flora Photo
Western Red Cedar
Thuja plicata Donn ex D. Don
Located along the Lolo Trail in 20 Sep 1905. (Source)
Western red cedar is a large, native, long-lived, evergreen tree. At maturity it is generally 70 to 100 feet tall, sometimes 130 feet, with a tapering trunk 2 to 4 feet in diameter, sometimes 6 feet or more. On some sites west of the Cascades, old-growth western red cedar often attains basal diameters of 8 to 10 feet and heights of 200 feet. The largest known western red cedars are believed to be 1,000 years old or more. Western red cedar has a swollen or buttressed base, pointed conical crown, and horizontal branches curving upward at the tips. The leaves are scale like, flattened and 0.05 to 0.1 inches long. The twigs are flattened, in fanlike sprays and slightly drooping. The bark is thin, fibrous and stringy or shreddy. Thickness varies from 0.5 to 1 inch. The cones are clustered near the ends of twigs and become turned up on short stalks. Western red cedar roots are extensive. Tap roots are poorly defined or nonexistent, but fine roots develop a profuse, dense network.
It grows best in maritime climates with cool, cloudy summers and wet, mild winters. Near its range limits in the drier mountains east of the Cascade crest, western red cedar grows almost exclusively in narrow canyons, where its roots are irrigated all summer by a mountain stream. In the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in Idah, western red cedar is dominant in wet ravines and poorly drained depressions. Bottomland frost pockets in northern Western red cedar can tolerate a wide range of soil. Coarse sandy soils are not well suited to the establishment and growth of western red cedar in northern Idaho and northeast Washington. It grows in elevations of the northern Rocky Mountains from 2,000 to 5,90 feet. (Source)
The moist inner bark was collected in spring and eaten fresh or dried for future use.
A bough tea was sweetened with honey and used to relieve diarrhea, coughs, colds and sore throats. The bark and twigs were used to make a tea to treat kidney problems. Alcohol extracts were said to cure fungal skin infections including athletes foot, ringworm, and nail fungi. Oil from leaves was applied to warts, hemorrhoids, fungal infections, and other blisters of the skin.
Native Americans used the inner bark for baskets, blankets, clothing, ropes, mats, and other items. Containers were made from sheets of bark. Fine roots were split to make watertight baskets for use in cooking. The trunks were used to make dugout canoes, rafts, and frames for birch bark canoes. Cedar sprays were used for incense.
The wood is low in strength and soft but is very resistant to decay, making it best suited for use as exposed building material such as shingles, shakes, and exterior siding. Hand-split western red cedar shakes will last 100 years on a roof . The wood is fine and straight grained, which makes it suitable for interior finishing . Western red cedar wood is also used for utility poles, fence posts, light construction pulp, clothes closets and chests, boats, canoes, fish trap floats, caskets, crates, and boxes.
Value to Animals:
Western redcedar is a major winter food for big game in the northern Rocky Mountains. Cattle browse western redcedar in preference to Douglas-fir in northwestern Oregon, and sheep damaged western redcedar reproduction more than that of other trees in northern Idaho. Old-growth stands of western redcedar provide hiding and thermal cover for several wildlife species. Bears, raccoons, skunks, and other animals use cavities in western red cedar for dens. In the southern Selkirk Mountains of northern Idaho. Grizzly bears have been known to use heavily timbered western redcedar and western hemlock forests. Western red cedar is used as nest trees by cavity nesting bird species such as yellow-bellied sapsuckers, hairy woodpeckers, tree swallows, chestnut backed chickadees, and Vaux's swifts.
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