Thuja plicata


''Thuja plicata'' is an
evergreen In botany Botany, also called , plant biology or phytology, is the science of plant life and a branch of biology. A botanist, plant scientist or phytologist is a scientist who specialises in this field. The term "botany" comes from the Anci ...

coniferous Conifers are a group of cone-bearing seed plants The spermatophytes (; ), also known as phanerogams (taxon Phanerogamae) or phaenogams (taxon Phaenogamae), comprise those plant Plants are predominantly photosynthetic eukaryotes of the Kin ...
tree In botany, a tree is a perennial plant with an elongated Plant stem, stem, or trunk (botany), trunk, supporting branches and leaves in most species. In some usages, the definition of a tree may be narrower, including only wood plants with se ...

in the cypress
family In , family (from la, familia) is a of people related either by (by recognized birth) or (by marriage or other relationship). The purpose of families is to maintain the well-being of its members and of society. Ideally, families would off ...
Cupressaceae Cupressaceae is a conifer family, the cypress family, with worldwide distribution. The family includes 27–30 genera (17 Monotypic taxon, monotypic), which include the junipers and redwoods, with about 130–140 species in total. They are Monoecy ...

, native to western North America. Its common name is western redcedar (western red cedar in the UK), and it is also called Pacific redcedar, giant arborvitae, western arborvitae, just cedar, giant cedar, or shinglewood. It is not a true cedar of the genus ''
Cedrus ''Cedrus'', common English name cedar, is a genus of ous s in the plant family (subfamily Abietoideae). They are to the mountains of the western and the , occurring at altitudes of 1,500–3,200 m in the Himalayas and 1,000–2,200  ...


''Thuja plicata'' is among the most widespread trees in the
Pacific Northwest The Pacific Northwest (PNW) is a geographic region in western North America North America is a continent entirely within the Northern Hemisphere and almost all within the Western Hemisphere. It can also be described as the northern s ...
. It is associated with
Douglas fir The Douglas fir (''Pseudotsuga menziesii'') is an evergreen conifer species in the pine family, Pinaceae. It is native plant, native to western North America and is also known as Douglas-fir, Douglas spruce, Oregon pine, and Columbian pine. There ...
western hemlock ''Tsuga heterophylla'', the western hemlock or western hemlock-spruce, is a species of hemlock Hemlock may refer to: Plants *Several poisonous plants in the family Apiaceae **''Cicuta'' (water hemlock) **''Conium'', four species, of which ''ma ...
in most places where it grows. It is found at the elevation range of sea level to a maximum of above sea level at Crater Lake in Oregon. In addition to growing in lush forests and mountainsides, western redcedar is also a Riparian zone, riparian tree, growing in many forested swamps and streambanks in its range. The tree is shade-tolerant and able to reproduce under dense shade. It has been introduced to other temperate zones, including western Europe, Australia (at least as far north as Sydney), New Zealand, the eastern United States (at least as far north as Central New York), and higher elevations of Hawaii. The species is naturalisation (biology), naturalized in Britain.


''Thuja plicata'' is a large to very large tree, ranging up to tall and in trunk diameter. Trees growing in the open may have a crown that reaches the ground, whereas trees densely spaced together will exhibit a crown only at the top, where light can reach the leaves. It is long-lived; some individuals can live well over a thousand years, with the oldest verified being 1460 years. The foliage forms flat sprays with scale-like leaves in opposite pairs, with successive pairs at 90 degrees to each other. The foliage sprays are green above and green marked with whitish stomatal bands below; they are strongly aromatic, with a scent reminiscent of pineapple when crushed. The individual leaves are long and broad on most foliage sprays, but up to long on strong-growing lead shoots. The conifer cone, cones are slender, long, and broad, with 8 to 12 (rarely 14) thin, overlapping scales. They are green to yellow-green, ripening brown in fall about six months after pollination, and open at maturity to shed the seeds. The seeds are long and broad, with a narrow papery wing down each side. The pollen cones are long, red or purple at first, and shed yellow pollen in spring. Thuja bark Łazienki.JPG, The bark is fibrous and longitudinally fissured. Thuja plicata kz3.JPG, The leaves have white markings on the undersides of the flat foliage sprays. Thuja plicata 21 4 2017 Kaisaniemi 0016 (cropped).jpg, A shoot with pollen cones. Thuja plicata 43569.JPG, A shoot with mature seed cones, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Taxonomy and name

''Thuja plicata'' is one of two ''Thuja'' species native to North America, the other being ''Thuja occidentalis''. The species name ''plicata'' derives from the Latin word and means 'folded in plaits' or 'braided,' a reference to the pattern of its small leaves. Most authorities, both in Canada and the United States cite the English name in two words as western redcedar, or occasionally hyphenated as western red-cedar, to indicate it is not a true cedar (''
Cedrus ''Cedrus'', common English name cedar, is a genus of ous s in the plant family (subfamily Abietoideae). They are to the mountains of the western and the , occurring at altitudes of 1,500–3,200 m in the Himalayas and 1,000–2,200  ...
''), but it is also cited as western red cedar in some popular works. In the American horticultural trade, it is also known as the giant arborvitae, by comparison with arborvitae for its close relative ''Thuja occidentalis''. Other names include giant redcedar, Pacific redcedar, shinglewood, British Columbia cedar, canoe cedar, and red cedar. ''Arborvitae'' comes from the Latin for 'tree of life'; coincidentally, Native Americans of the West coast also address the species as "long life maker". One endonymous name for the tree is the Halkomelem word , from the roots , meaning 'scratch' or 'line', and , 'bark'; the former root may be in reference to both the lined or "folded/braided" appearance of the bark and the tree's ubiquity in carving and other forms of woodwork.


Use by wildlife

Western redcedar foliage, especially that of saplings, is an important food source year-round for browsing (herbivory), browsing ungulates such as Roosevelt elk and black-tailed deer, especially during the winter months when little else is available. The seeds are eaten by birds and rodents. Western redcedar provides cover for bears, raccoons, skunks, and other animals which nest inside trunk cavities. It is used as a nest tree by cavity-nesting bird species such as yellow-bellied sapsuckers, hairy woodpeckers, tree swallows, chestnut-backed chickadees, and Vaux's swifts. ''Thuja plicata'' is a host to several destructive insect species such as the Trachykele blondeli, western cedar borer, Phloeosinus punctatus, cedar bark beetle, Mayetiola, gall midge, and Steremnius carinatus, conifer seedling weevils.

Forest succession

Western redcedar appears in all stages of forest succession, but as it is one of the most shade-tolerant species in the Rocky Mountains and Pacific Northwest it is considered to be a Climax community, climax species along with western hemlock. It will readily establish and grow in the shade of other, less shade-tolerant species such as Alnus rubra, red alder, Populus trichocarpa, black cottonwood, or Douglas-fir, and prevent seedlings of those species from establishing themselves in its shade.

Fire ecology

It is considered to have low to moderate fire resistance, as its thin bark, shallow roots, low dense branching habit (biology), habit, and flammable foliage confer little protection. Smaller trees are commonly killed by fire, but larger specimens often survive due to their size if they are not completely girdling, girdled. The intervals between fires within western redcedar stands tend to be very long, from 50 up to 350 years or more.


Western redcedar shows susceptibility of varying degrees to the following soil pathogens: ''Armillaria ostoyae, Fomitopsis pinicola, Heterobasidion annosum, Phaeolus schweinitzii, Phellinus weirii, Rhizina undulata, Rhizinia undulata,'' and ''Postia sericeomollis.'' While western redcedar is a host to ''P. weirii,'' the fungus which causes the disease laminated root rot, redcedar is rated as resistant while other conifers are rated as highly susceptible or susceptible. Instead of laminated root rot, ''P. weirii'' in western redcedar expresses as a butt rot that can extend 2–3 m up the boles of living trees with the most extreme cases reaching 10 m. While the heart rot caused by the redcedar form of ''P. weirii'' does not kill the tree outright, it does severely weaken the lower portion of the bole which makes the tree highly susceptible to stem breakage. ''P. sericeomollis'' is responsible for brown cubical butt and pocket rot of cedar. It is the second-most common cause of decay in western redcedar following ''P. weirii''. Rather than forming a single column of decay in the heartwood, though, ''P. sericeomollis'' tends to cause rings or pockets of decay in the lower bole. In addition to ''P. weirii,'' western redcedar is also less susceptible to ''H. annosum'' and ''A. ostoyae'' than other conifer species. Studies have found that western redcedar produces a phytochemical called thujaplicin which has been credited with granting the species its natural resistance to fungal attacks. Because of these natural defenses, it has been suggested that western redcedar may serve as a suitable alternative to other conifers when regenerating a site affected by these pathogens.

Notable specimens

The largest living specimen is the Cheewhat Giant, in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve on Vancouver Island, at . The tallest known individual is the Willaby Creek Tree south of Lake Quinault, in height. The "Quinault Lake Redcedar" was the largest known western redcedar in the world, with a wood volume of . Located near the northwest shore of Lake Quinault north of Aberdeen, Washington, about from the Pacific Ocean, it was one-third the volume of the largest known tree, a Sequoiadendron giganteum, giant sequoia named "General Sherman (tree), General Sherman". The Quinault Lake Redcedar was tall with a diameter of at breast height. The "Quinault Lake Red Cedar" was destroyed by a series of storms in 2014 and 2016 and is now only a glorified stump. The fifth known largest was the Kalaloch Cedar in the Olympic National Park, at , until it was destroyed by storm in March 2014. A redcedar over tall, in diameter, and over 700 years old stood in Cathedral Grove on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, before it was set on fire and destroyed by vandals in 1972. That tree now lies in "Giant's Grave", a self-dug 'grave' created by the force of its own impact.Picture of the Cathedral Grove stump.
/ref> An diameter and tall specimen on the Giant Red Cedar National Recreation Trail in the Idaho Panhandle National Forests is designated the "Champion Tree of Idaho".



The soft red-brown timber has a tight, straight grain and few knots. It is valued for its distinct appearance, aroma, and its high natural resistance to decay, being extensively used for outdoor construction in the form of posts, decking, Shake (shingle), shingles, and siding. It is commonly used for the framing and longwood in lightweight sail boats and kayaks. In larger boats it is often used in sandwich construction between two layers of epoxy resin and/or fibreglass or similar products. Due to its light weight – dried – it is about 30% lighter than common boat building woods, such as mahogany. For its weight it is quite strong but can be brittle. It glues well with epoxy resin or resorcinol adhesive. The wood typically used as an insect-repelling closet lining and to make cedar chests is a different species, Juniperus virginiana (also known as red cedar). Its light weight, strength, and dark, warm sound make it a popular choice for guitar sound board (music), soundboards, particularly among European guitar builders such as Lowden and Furch.


Like its relative ''Thuja occidentalis'' and many other conifer species, ''Thuja plicata'' is grown as an ornamental tree, and for screens and Hedge (gardening), hedges, throughout the world in gardens and parks. A wide variety of forms, sizes, and colours is available. ;Cultivars The following cultivars have gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit: *'Atrovirens' *'Aurea' *'Stoneham Gold' *'Whipcord' *'Zebrina'

Other uses

It is also widely used throughout Europe and America for making beehive components. Its bark has been studied for applications in polyurethane.


The heartwood of western red cedar contains different chemical substances, such as plicatic acid, thujaplicatin methyl ether, hinokitiol and other thujaplicins, β-thujaplicinol, thujic acid, methyl thujate, 1,4-cineole and γ-eudesmol. Plicatic acid is believed to be the main irritant and contact allergen responsible for provoking allergic reactions and asthma exaggeration and leading to occupational asthma in woodworkers that are exposed to western red cedar wood dust. Thujaplicins serve as natural fungicides, and thereby prevent the wood from Wood-decay fungus, rotting. This effect lasts around a century even after the tree is felled. However, thujaplicins are only found in older trees. Saplings do not produce the chemical, causing them to often develop rot at an early stage, causing some trees to grow with a somewhat hollow trunk, as the tree moves to heal itself as it grows. Due to their fungicidal and anti-Food browning, browning properties, thujaplicins are used in agriculture for fungal diseases and to prevent Post-harvest losses (vegetables), post-harvest decay. Thujaplicins, as other tropolones, are potent chelating agents and bind divalent metal ions. Basic research, Basic and animal studies have shown that thujaplicins may have other biological properties, including antibacterial, antiviral and antioxidant activities, however reliable evidence on their effectiveness is still lacking.

Essential oil

The essential oil of western red cedar leaves contains natural compounds, such as α-thujone, β-thujone, fenchone, sabinene, terpinen-4-ol and beyerene, which have also been isolated from different other essential oils. Some of these substances are Aromatic compound, aroma compounds and are used in perfumery. Thujones are GABAA receptor, GABAA receptor GABA receptor antagonist, competitive antagonists however because of their high toxicity and convulsive activity they do not have any pharmacological use.

Role in indigenous societies

Western red cedar has an extensive history of use by indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast, Native Americans of coastal Oregon to southeast Alaska. Some northwest coast tribes refer to themselves as "people of the redcedar" because of their extensive dependence on the tree for basic materials. The wood has been used for constructing housing and totem poles, and crafted into many objects, including masks, utensils, boxes, boards, instruments, canoes, vessels, houses, and ceremonial objects. Western Red Cedar is also associated with a long tradition of curing and cooking fish over the open fire. Roots and bark are used for baskets, bowls, ropes, clothing, blankets, and rings.


A huge number of archaeological finds point to the continuous use of redcedar wood in native societies. Woodworking tools dating between 8000 and 5000 years ago, such as carved antlers, were discovered in shell middens at the Glenrose site, near Vancouver, British Columbia. In Yuquot, British Columbia, Yuquot, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, tools dating 4000 to 3000 years old have been found. The Musqueam site, also near Vancouver, yielded bark baskets woven in five different styles, along with ropes and ships dated to 3000 years ago. At Pitt River, adzes and baskets were dated around 2900 years ago. Wooden artifacts 1000 years old were unearthed on the east coast of Vancouver Island. Red cedar was used extensively wherever it was found along the northwest coast (British Columbia, Washington state, Parts of Alaska). Evidence of this use is found in CMTs (Culturally Modified Trees) that are found throughout the coast. When First Nations people removed the bark from cedars, it left a scar – which is considered a CMT. Other types of harvest (for planks, tinder, and other uses) leave different types of evidence of cultural modification. A legend amongst the Coast Salish peoples describes the origins of the western redcedar. In this legend, there was a generous man who gave the people whatever they needed. When the Great Spirit saw this, he declared that when the generous man died, a great redcedar tree will grow where he is buried, and that the cedar will be useful to all the people, providing its roots for baskets, bark for clothing, and wood for shelter.


The wood was worked primarily with the adze, which was preferred over all other tools, even ones introduced by Europeans. Alexander Walker, an ensign on the fur trade ship ''Captain Cook'', reported that the indigenous peoples used an elbow adze, which they valued over tools brought by the Europeans, such as the saw or the axe, going so far as to modify traded tools back into an adze. Tools were generally made from stone, bone, obsidian, or a harder wood such as Tsuga, hemlock. A variety of hand Post maul, mauls, wedges, chisels, and knives are also used. Excavations done at Ozette, Washington turned up iron tools nearly 800 years old, far before European contact. When James Cook passed the area, he observed that almost all tools were made of iron. There has been speculation on the origin of these iron tools. Some theories include shipwrecks from East Asia or possible contact with iron-using cultures from Siberia, as hinted in the more advanced woodworking found in northern tribes such as the Tlingit people, Tlingit.


Harvesting redcedars required some ceremony and included propitiation of the tree's spirits as well as those of the surrounding trees. In particular, many people specifically requested the tree and its brethren not to fall or drop heavy branches on the harvester, a situation which is mentioned in a number of different stories of people who were not sufficiently careful. Some professional loggers of Native American descent have mentioned that they offer quiet or silent propitiations to trees which they fell, following in this tradition. Felling of large trees such as redcedar before the introduction of steel tools was a complex and time-consuming art. Typically the bark was removed around the base of the tree above the buttresses. Then some amount of cutting and splitting with stone adzes and mauls would be done, creating a wide triangular cut. The area above and below the cut would be covered with a mixture of wet moss and clay as a firebreak. Then the cut would be packed with tinder and small kindling and slowly burned. The process of cutting and burning would alternate until the tree was mostly penetrated through, and then careful tending of the fire would fell the tree in the best direction for handling. This process could take many days. Constant rotation of workers was involved to keep the fires burning through night and day, often in a remote and forbidding location. Once the tree was felled, the work had only just begun, as it then had to be stripped and dragged down to shore. If the tree was to become canoes, then it would often be divided into sections and worked into rough canoe shapes before transport. If it were to be used for a totem pole or building materials, it would be towed in the round to the village. Many trees are still felled in this traditional manner for use as totem poles and canoes, particularly by artists who feel that using modern tools is detrimental to the traditional spirit of the art. Non-traditionalists simply buy redcedar logs or lumber at mills or lumber yards, a practice that is commonly followed by most working in smaller sizes such as for masks and staves. Because felling required such an extraordinary amount of work, if only planks for housing were needed, these would be split from the living tree. The bark was stripped and saved, and two cuts were made at the ends of the planking. Then wedges would be pounded in along the sides and the planks slowly split off the side of the tree. Trees which have been so harvested are still visible in some places in the rainforest, with obvious chunks taken off of their sides. Such trees usually continue to grow perfectly well, since redcedar wood is resistant to decay. Planks are straightened by a variety of methods, including weighing them down with stones, lashing them together with rope, or forcing them between a line of stakes. Redcedar wood is used to make huge monoxyla canoes in which the men went out to high sea to harpoon whales and conduct trade. One of those canoes, a craft dug out about a century ago, was bought in 1901 by Captain John Voss (sailor), John Voss, an adventurer. He gave her the name of Tilikum(tilixam)(boat), Tilikum ('Relative' in Chinook jargon), rigged her, and led her in a hectic three-year voyage from British Columbia to London. Redcedar branches are very flexible and have good tensile strength. They were stripped and used as strong cords for fishing line, rope cores, twine, and other purposes where bark cord was not strong enough or might fray. Both the branches and bark rope have been replaced by modern fiber and nylon cordage among the aboriginal northwest coast peoples, though the bark is still in use for the other purposes mentioned above.


At the right time of year, the bark (botany), bark is easily removed from live trees in long strips. It is harvested for use in making mats, rope and cordage, basketry, rain hats, clothing, and other soft goods. The harvesting of bark must be done with care, as stripping too much bark will kill the tree. To prevent this, the harvester usually only harvests from trees which have not been stripped before. After harvesting, the tree is not used for bark again, although it may later be felled for wood. Stripping bark is usually started with a series of cuts at the base of the tree above any buttresses, after which the bark is peeled upwards. To remove bark high up, a pair of platforms strung on rope around the tree are used and the harvester climbs by alternating between them for support. Since redcedars lose their lower branches as all tall trees do in the rainforest, the harvester may climb or more into the tree by this method. The harvested bark is folded and carried in backpacks. It can be stored for quite some time as mold does not grow on it, and is moistened before unfolding and working. It is then split lengthwise into the required width and woven or twisted into shape. Bark harvesting was mostly done by women, despite the danger of climbing ten meters in the air, because they were the primary makers of bark goods. Today bark rope making is a lost art in many communities, although it is still practiced for decoration or art in a few places. Other uses of bark are still common for artistic or practical purposes. In recent years there has been a revival of cedar weaving in some communities, and along with it, new forms of cedar bark products. For example, in some recent weddings cedar roses are used to decorate the tables.

Legal status

Western red cedar is export-restricted in the United States under the Export Administration Regulations.

Health and safety

Western red cedar is highly allergenic and woodworkers or loggers who work with it may have adverse reactions, including the development of occupational asthma, exacerbation of existing asthma, reduction of lung function, and eye irritation. Approximately 5% of workers are allergic to western red cedar. The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration has set a permissible exposure limit for red cedar dust of 2.5 mg/m3 as a time-weighted average over eight hours.

See also

* Cedar wood * List of superlative trees


Works cited

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External links

* {{Authority control Thuja, plicata Trees of the West Coast of the United States Trees of Western Canada Trees of the Northwestern United States Trees of Alaska Trees of British Columbia Trees of the Southwestern United States Flora of the Cascade Range Flora of the Klamath Mountains Flora of the Rocky Mountains Flora of California Trees of mild maritime climate Trees of Subarctic America Plants described in 1824 Building materials Provincial symbols of British Columbia Least concern plants Least concern flora of North America Least concern flora of the United States