Category   Trees in British Columbia: Western Red Cedar
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Western Redcedar (Thuja plicata)

When is a cedar not a cedar? When it is an arborvitae, that's when. The true cedars (Cedrus species) come from the Mediterranean region, and include the famous Cedar of Lebanon. They more closely resemble firs than they do what we call cedar.

Western Redcedar is one of three arborvitaes in the world; Eastern White Cedar is another, and the third occurs in China. Eastern Red Cedar is, of course, a juniper.

By whatever name, this is a remarkable species. It lives to an age of 1500 years or more (if allowed to). It has played an important role to native and non-native peoples alike.

Coastal first peoples used the cedar tree extensively. Most obvious were the great dugout canoes, and totems carved from single cedar logs. Longhouses made of split cedar planks had huge cedar beams resting on cedar posts.

The shaggy bark was woven into articles of clothing, and fine rootlets were peeled, split, and woven into baskets. European newcomers quickly learned from the natives, and began to use cedar in their construction. Its wood splits evenly and cleanly, is light in weight, and resists decay. Split cedar shakes, properly applied, can keep a roof waterproof for 75 to 100 years (current practices unfortunately are not so successful). Cedar lumber weathers well and resists twisting.

Western Redcedar is a prodigious seed producer, with counts of millions of seeds per acre in mixed stands. Still, very few seedlings survive summer drought, smothering by forest litter, and attacks by fungi.

This species is not the largest on the west coast, but some specimens are massive. A specimen on Meares Island in Clayoquot Sound has a trunk circumference of 20 meters. Another, at Cheewhat Lake, is just less than 19 meters in circumference, but soars to a height of 59 meters. Older trees are often disfigured, with many taking on a characteristic candelabra shape.

Even after they fall, they remain a part of the forest for hundreds of years, providing cover for animals, and nourishment for new trees, a new generation, the next 1000 years.

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