Western Red Cedar (Plicata)

The Western Red Cedar (Plicata) is generally described as a perennial tree. This is native to the U.S. (United States) has its most active growth period in the spring and summer . The greatest bloom is usually observed in the mid spring, with fruit and seed production starting in the summer and continuing until fall. Leaves are retained year to year. The Western Red Cedar (Plicata) has a long life span relative to most other plant species and a slow growth rate. At maturity, the typical Western Red Cedar (Plicata) will reach up to 150 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 40 feet.

The Western Red Cedar (Plicata) is usually not commercially available except under contract. It can be propagated by bare root, container, cuttings, seed. It has a moderate ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have low vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -33°F. has low tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Industry: The wood of western red cedar is primarily used in roofing for shingles and shakes, because of its attractive appearance, durability, lightness, and superior insulation qualities. It is also used in exterior finishings, utility poles, fence posts, piling, paper pulp, and various types of containers. The species is managed for timber in Europe and New Zealand. Cedar leaf oil is often the basis for production of perfumes, insecticides, medicinal preparations, veterinary soaps, shoe polishes, and deodorants.

Wildlife: The leaves of western red cedar are a major winter food for big game in the northern Rocky Mountains, and deer browse it all year along the coast. Many cultivars are grown for ornament, including those used for hedges. It is the provincial tree of British Columbia.

Ethnobotanic: Western red cedar has been called “the cornerstone of northwest coast Indian culture” and the large-scale use of its wood and bark delineates the cultural boundary of the northwest coast peoples within its range. Wood served for house planks, house posts, roof boards, various kinds of boxes, and canoes. It is easy to split and was often used for bentwood boxes. Bark was made into skirts, capes, and complete dresses for women, and roots and limbs were used for baskets and rope. The inner bark was used for slow matches to carry the fire from camp to camp, and also as mats, and baskets. Various medicines were derived from the tree.

General Characteristics

General: Cypress family (Cupressaceae). Native trees growing to 50 (-75) meters tall, often buttressed at base, with a conical to irregular crown, old individuals frequently with many leaders and many dead spike tops; branches arching, branchlets pendent, flattened, in fan-shaped sprays; bark gray to reddish-brown, 10-25 mm thick, fibrous, separated into flat, connected ridges. Leaves are evergreen, scale-like and sharply pointed, (1-) 3-6 mm long, opposite in alternating pairs (in 4 rows), glossy green above, white-striped on the lower surface, with a spicy fragrance when crushed. Seed cones are ellipsoid, 10-14 mm long, brown; seeds 8-14 per cone, 4-7.5 mm long, with lateral wings about as wide as the body. The common name pertains to the western

Required Growing Conditions

The range of western red-cedar is essentially in two segments: a Coast Range-Cascade Range segment from southeastern Alaska to northwestern California and a Rocky Mountain segment from British Columbia and Alberta to Idaho and Montana. For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.

Adaptation The trees occur on various substrates, commonly on moist sites (swamps, wet ravines, poorly drained depressions), but on a variety of landforms, including rocky slopes, at 0-1500 (-2300) meters elevation. They usually occur in mixed coniferous forests, rarely in pure stands. In cultivation, they prefer moist, acid, well-drained soils but have been grown in heavy clays of the Midwest.

Cultivation and Care

Cone production begins in open-grown trees of western red cedar at about 10-20 years of age but peak production occurs after 70-80 years and may continue for several centuries. Good seed crops are produced at intervals of 2-3 years.

In clearcuts and other disturbed areas, seedlings account for most of the western red-cedar regeneration, but seedlings in mature stands may be less abundant than individuals produced by vegetative reproduction from layering, rooting of fallen branches, and branch development on fallen trees. Disturbed mineral soil seems to be a major requirement for regeneration from seed. Unburned soil provides better seedbed than scorched soil, but slash burning may create mineral soil surfaces in cut-over areas. In mature stands of western red cedar, rotten wood in contact with the soil provides an effective seedbed. Partial shade, which lowers evaporation and soil temperature, is beneficial to seedling growth.

Western red cedar is often present in pioneer, seral, and climax stages of forest succession. Vegetative regeneration may be predominant in ecologically stable communities, but wide seed distribution allows it to invade disturbed areas. It is highly shade-tolerant and is well suited for reforesting high brush-risk areas near the coast.

Age determination of western red-cedar is complicated by buttress formation and the associated complex growth patterns, but ring counts of trees from Washington and British Columbia indicate that some trees live at least up to 1460 years.

General Upkeep and Control

In mixed-species and uneven-aged stands western red cedars tolerate shady understory conditions and can maintain slow but acceptable growth rates over long periods. In timber harvest of these mixed-species stands, most of these trees are taken by clearcutting. Because of steep terrain, decay, and breakage, harvesting costs are high and lumber recovery is low. Because of its high susceptibility to windthrow in wet environments and in the moist sites where growth and yield are highest, western red cedars should not be left as scattered seed trees. Even those along clearcut margins may be lost to wind throw or exposure.

Severe browse damage to western red-cedar seedlings and saplings by deer, elk, and rodents may be the most important problem in the establishment of young stands. In near-coastal sites, western red-cedar is more severely damaged by fire than any of its associates.

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Slow
General Type Tree
Growth Period Spring, Summer
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Long
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability Contracting Only
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Mid Spring
Displays Fall Colors No
Shape/Growth Form Single Stem
Drought Tolerance Low
Shade Tolerance Tolerant
Height When Mature 150
Vegetative Spread None
Flower Conspicuousness No
Fruit/Seed Abundance High
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Summer Fall
Seed Spread Rate Moderate
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Bare Root, Container, Cuttings, Seed
Moisture Requirements Medium
Cold Stratification Required Yes
Minimum Temperature -33
Soil Depth for Roots 30
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Resprout Ability No
Responds to Coppicing No
Growth Requirements
pH Range 5.1–7.1 pH
Precipitation Range 30–30 inches/yr
Planting Density 300–1200 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 30
Minimum Frost-Free Days 180 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance None
CaCO3 Tolerance Medium
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention Yes
Palatability Low
Fire Resistant No
Causes Livestock Bloating None

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database, plants.usda.gov.
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA