Australian Red Cedar

Australian Red Cedar

Common name Australian Red Cedar
Botanical Name Toona ciliata
Family Meliaceae
Natural range Asia down to Sydney
Mature height 15-25m
Form domed tree with spreading limbs
Likes Rich, moist soil – like you find in rainforests
Dislikes Cold weather and drought
Where to plant Will grow into an elegant specimen tree, while developing valuable timber
Known for High grade timber and now, for being protected

A valuable timber for furniture making

How many Australian trees can claim to be a hot property on the black market? And is a native, deciduous species? Wait, what? No, that doesn’t sound right at all…

But there is one specimen that fits this bill. Meet Toona ciliata – the Australian Red Cedar. Not to be confused with Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata), a US conifer that can also be found in Australian gardens, the Aussie version is a rainforest beauty that is highly sought for its valuable timber.

So highly sought, in fact, that during Australia’s early years of settlement, the timber was referred to as ‘red gold’ and was judged to be one the best furniture timbers available in the world at the time.

“Red Cedar had one advantage over all other timber species – it grew in profusion along the banks of most of the coastal rivers. Since this was also before the days of overland transport, the logs were simply cut and hauled or rolled into the water, formed into rafts and floated to the river mouth where they could be securely loaded onto coastal clippers and sent by sea to Sydney.”  (Australian Rainforest Woods:  Characteristics, Uses and Identification; Morris Lake).

Almost made extinct by tree logging

Sadly, like many of our natural resources, it was quickly logged almost into extinction. As early as 1825, a notice published in the ‘Government Gazette’ stated that permission must be obtained from the Colonial Secretary for the cutting down and removal of Cedars from public land. This soon led to a criminal class of cedar loggers, cutting trees in the middle of the night and camping rough in the wilderness as they hunted for the next giant tree.

An Australian native and a deciduous species?

Red Cedars are one of Australia’s few native deciduous trees, with the leaves falling in autumn (late March) and growing back in spring (early September). The new leaf growth is reddish pink in colour.

They will happily grow in colder states such as Victoria and establish easily in full-sun or semi-shade. The trick is to provide a rich growing medium of nutrient-dense organic soil – just like you’d find in a rainforest. These days, the tree’s natural habitat of subtropical forests in New South Wales and Queensland has been extensively cleared of these trees which can grow to 60m tall with base circumferences of up to 11.5m. The trees are now protected and listed with a conservation status of concern, but they are not considered to be endangered at present. Only a few giants remain in the wild.

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