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Cedar Mill News
Volume 3, Issue 11


November 2005

The Nature of Cedar Mill
Western redcedar

By Kyle Spinks, Natural Resources TechnicianTualatin Hills Park and Recreation District

Western redcedar (Thuja plicata – pronounced ‘THOO-yuh pli-KAH-tuh) is probably the tree best known to Northwesterners. Native Americans from Alaska to northern California, and as far inland as the Rocky Mountains, prized this tree for its myriad uses. Canoes, clothing, shelter, nets, and tools were made from all parts of the tree, from roots to shoots, heartwood to bark. Medical and spiritual uses were common as well, and included such things as drinking teas to relieve pain and waving smoking limbs to ward off evil household spirits.

As with the Native Americans throughout the ages, redcedar is highly prized by today’s builders because of its beauty and its resistance to decay. This decay resistance is because redcedar, like the redwood and sequoia species to the south, accumulates ‘extractives’ (metabolic byproducts) in its wood. These byproducts are toxic (or at least not tasty) to many bugs and pathogens. Many years, even decades, after a redcedar has fallen in the forest, its wood perseveres on the forest floor, long after other trees have decayed back into the soils.

Western redcedar is a shade-loving species, and is well adapted to cool, maritime regions or moist valleys. The soft, shredding, reddish bark and tapering bases with large buttressing flutes easily distinguish this tree from other trees. Many may grow to 130 feet tall and over 3 feet in diameter on average, though much larger specimens are common in our western forests (the largest known Western redcedar, along the shore of Lake Quinault on the Olympic Peninsula, is 173 feet tall and 19 feet in diameter). Under the right conditions these trees can live to over 450 years, producing copious seed each year after the age of about 20. Another of redcedar’s attributes is its proficiency at sprouting on downed logs (nurse logs), forming linear stands of new growth on the backs of fallen giants of yesteryear.

The name ‘redcedar’ is compound, indicating that it isn’t a member of the family of true cedars (which are native to the Eurasian continent). The compound or hyphenated common names of some of our other natives also indicate misnomers: Douglas-fir (not a true fir), poison-oak (not part of the oak family), and Oregon-grape (not a grape). But you only need to live here a short time to understand that no matter what you call it, western redcedar is the icon of Northwest nativeness.

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The Cedar Mill News
Published monthly by the Cedar Mill Business Association, Inc.,
P.O. Box 91177
Portland, OR 97291-0177

Publisher/Editor:Virginia Bruce
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