Western Red Cedar

Western Red Cedar

Common name Western Red cedar
Botanical name Thuja plicata
Family Cupressaceae
Natural range Pacific northwest, USA
Mature height to 70m in the US; 30m in Australia
Form Narrow conical shape
Likes Full sun and an open position
Dislikes Drought
Where to plant Useful screen tree in Australia
Known for Valuable timber

Notes:

Not to be confused with Australia’s own Western Red Cedar (Toona ciliata), or the ‘true Cedars’ of the Mediterranean, this tree stands in a class of its own. Western Red Cedar (of US origin) is rightly regarded as one of the finest timbers in the world, for its enviable combination of low price, light weight, tensile strength and flexibility.

If you’ve ever stuck your nose inside a cedar-lined wardrobe, you might have smelled the distinctive chemical known as ‘thujaplicin’ which is a naturally-produced fungicide that stays active in preventing rot for more than a century after the tree is felled. It also repels moths, which is handy in wardrobes.

Western Red Cedar is also extremely effective in repelling the dreaded tree disease ‘Armillaria’ or Honey Fungus. Research has suggested that planting Red Cedar near other tree plantations can even limit the damage caused to those trees from Armillaria. It protects the neighbours!

First Nations people of America’s Pacific northwest found this tree to be a valuable resource before settlers arrived, using it for everything from totem poles, to dugout canoes and handles for other tools. The stringy bark was also woven into ropes and textiles.

American settlers wasted no time logging this valuable resource, most famously for shingles – the thin roof tiles favoured by rural homeowners across the country. Even today Western Red Cedar is an important commercial product, with large volumes of wood imported from the USA to Japan and Europe.

While examples of Red Cedar in Australia will never reach the 50-70m heights of the forest giants in the US, it still grows well here in cooler areas. In the cities it is a popular screen tree or hedge and quickly forms a dense canopy with regular pruning.

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