A large tree, up to 60 metres tall when mature, with drooping branches; trunk often spreading out widely at the base.
Scale-like, opposite pairs, in four rows, folded in one pair but not in the other and overlapping like shingles. Arranged on the twigs in flat, fan-like sprays. Very strong aroma.
Seed cones are egg-shaped, 1 centimetre long, with several pairs of scales. Pollen cones are small and reddish.
Grey, stringy, tearing off in long strips on mature trees.
Where to find western redcedar
It typically occurs at low to mid elevations along the coast and in the wet belt of the Interior, where the climate is cool, mild, and moist.
Western redcedar grows best in moist to wet soils, with lots of nutrients. It is tolerant of shade and long-lived, sometimes over 1,000 years.
Western redcedar frequently grows with western hemlock and Douglas-fir. On the north coast, it also grows with amabilis fir and spruces. These forests usually have a lush layer of ferns, huckleberries, and Devil’s club, with a thick carpet of mosses on the forest floor.
The western redcedar has been called “the cornerstone of Northwest Coast aboriginal culture,” and has great spiritual significance. Coastal people used all parts of the tree. They used the wood for dugout canoes, house planks, bentwood boxes, clothing, and many tools such as arrow shafts, masks, and paddles. The inner bark made rope, clothing, and baskets. The long arching branches were twisted into rope and baskets. It was also used for many medicines.
The wood is naturally durable and light in weight. It is used for house siding and interior paneling as well as outdoor furniture, decking and fencing. Because of its resistance to decay and insect damage, the wood of large, fallen trees remains sound for over 100 years. Even after 100 years, the wood can be salvaged and cut into shakes for roofs.
The western redcedar is British Columbia’s official tree. The name plicata comes from a Greek word meaning “folded in plaits,” in reference to the arrangement of the leaves. It is sometimes called arbor-vitae, Latin for “tree of life.”