Red cedar trees fall into two categories: Western red cedar and Eastern red cedar. Both varieties come from the cypress family, falling into the evergreen conifer division, and thus, are not true cedars. With their fragrant, delicate-looking branches, the trees make a great additions to landscapes as long as growth requirements are noted.
Both Eastern and Western cedars sport small, scale-like leaves that form sprays. Both the branches and wood are highly fragrant.The Western red cedar grows up to 200 feet in height and may be found in western North America, where it can live to be more than 1,000 years old. The Eastern red cedar forms a much smaller tree, growing up to 40 feet in height in eastern and central North America.
In 1988, the Western Red Cedar was named British Columbia’s provincial tree. The tree was chosen thanks to the role it played in the lives of West Coast aboriginal people. To this day, the province still considers the tree a valuable resource.
Largest Red Cedar
The Quinault Lake Red Cedar remains the largest known Western red cedar in the world. The tree may be found on the northwest shore of Lake Quinault near Olympic National Park in the state of Washington. The tree is more than 150 feet tall with a trunk that spans over 18 feet in diameter.
The indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest coast have a tradition of using Western red cedar trees for a variety of objects including canoes, totem poles and ceremonial objects. Eastern red cedar was used to create medicine for coughs, head colds and dysentery.
Eastern red cedar may be considered a noxious weed in some parts of its growing area. Thanks to its quick reproduction, the tree often takes over native prairie plants, becoming the sole plant in the area. This eliminates other plants that are critical to wildlife and birds.
Birds rely on the berries of the Eastern red cedar as a food resource. The seeds in the berries pass through the birds, and get dropped into areas where the seeds sprout and grow into trees. Birds and small mammals rely on both types of cedar trees for nests and shelter. The Eastern red cedar, in particular, offers critical shelter since it does not lose its leaves each year unlike most of the other deciduous trees it grows near.