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Home > Landscaping > Native Plants for Western Washington Gardens and Restoration Projects

Thuja plicata

Western Red Cedar

Partial sun Mostly shady
Wet soil Moist soil

At a Glance: Large conifer with branches that droop and then turn back up (J-shaped), broad crowns.

Height: 100-230 feet (30-70 meters).
Growth Form: Tree.
Stems: Bark is 1-2 cm thick, gray to reddish brown and tears off in long fibrous strips, wood is aromatic, trunk has overall conical structure with buttresses at the base.
Leaves: Leaves are scale-like, arranged in flat opposite pairs, overlapping shingled arrangement, die and shed after 3-4 years. Size: 2 mm long; color: yellowish-green with glossy luster.
Flowers: Pollen cones are small and numerous, pollen and seed cones occur on separate branches, pollen cones are 2 mm long and narrowly cylindrical, female cones are 10-19 mm long and stubby; primary color: woody-brown.
Fruits: Cones are arranged in loose clusters, turned upward on branches, seeds are two-winged; cone shape: egg-shaped, narrow elliptical; size: 4-7 mm long; color: green when immature changing to light brown.

Thuja plicata
Photo © 2003, Starflower Foundation
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Sun/Shade Tolerance Hydrology Elevation Range
Shade tolerant, will germinate in shady understory.

full sun > 80%
mostly sunny 60%-80%
partial sun and shade 40%- 60%
mostly shady 60%-80%
full shade > 80%

Can establish in drier sites with rich soils.


Wetland Indicator Status:
Sea level to 1250 meters.

low elevation
mid elevation
high elevation

Soil Preferences
Prefers nutrient rich soils with poor drainage.
sandy soils
gravelly soils
clay soils
muddy soils
peaty soils
well drained soils
shallow soils
deep soils
acidic soils
basic soils
humic soils
nutrient rich soils
nutrient poor soils
mineral soils
organic soils

Habitat Preferences
Aquatic and Wetland:
Ponds or lakes
Shallow pools
Swales or wet ditches
Seasonally inundated areas
Marshes or swamps
Aquatic bed wetlands
Emergent wetlands
Scrub-shrub wetlands
Forested wetlands
Bogs, fens
Seeps, springs
Shorelines and Riparian:
Lake shores
Bog margins
Streams or rivers
Stream or river banks
Riparian corridors
River bars
Alluvial areas
Saltwater Areas:
In or near saltwater
Mud flats
Tidal areas
Brackish water
Coastal dunes or beaches
Rocky or Gravelly Areas:
Coastal bluffs
Rocky slopes
Glacial outwash
Slide areas
Sub-alpine and Alpine:
Snow beds
Avalanche tracks
Forests and Thickets:
Forests and woods
Open forests
Coniferous forests
Old growth forests
Deciduous forests
Mixed forests
Nurse logs
Forest edges, openings, or clearings
Meadows and Fields:
Pastures or fields
Meadows or grassy areas
Mossy areas
Disturbed Areas:
Logged sites
Burned areas
Disturbed sites

Wildlife Value
Nectar for hummingbirds
Nectar for butterflies
Host for insect larvae
Thickets and shelter
Thorny or protective cover

Birds: Birds that eat the winged seeds include grosbeaks, sparrows, waxwings, nuthatches, and siskins. The dense foliage provides important shelter and nest sites for birds such as juncos, jays, and warblers. Cavity-nesting birds roost in the cavities of the mature cedar trees.
Mammals: Deer and elk browse on the twigs and foliage. Trees squirrels and porcupines use the fibrous bark strips for nesting material.

Ethnobotanical Uses and Other Facts
Material Uses: Throughout the entire Pacific Northwest, this is the tree that is used most extensively. House planks, house posts, roof boards and canoes are made exclusively from this wood. Boxes, dugouts, cradles, and arrow shafts are also made from the wood. The Quileute make the hearth of fire drills out of cedar. The Squaxin make the herring rake of cedar. The charcoal of cedar wood mixed with salmon eggs is used to blacken canoe paddles. The bark of the tree was used more extensively than the wood, for a variety of purposes. It is shredded fine enough for cradle padding, sanitary pads, and towels. A coarser grade is plaited into skirts and capes, and later into complete dresses. Shredded bark is used for ceremonial head bands and for playing slahalem. Broad, un-shredded layers of bark were used as dishes and as cooking pit liners. Canoe bailers are made of cedar bark lashed with wild cherry bark. Wads of shredded bark are used as tinder for fires and slow torches. Narrow strips are woven into mats by the Makah. The mats could also be used as a sail. The limbs of the cedar tree are stripped of leaves, soaked, and twisted into ropes. These are remarkably strong and were used by the Quinault, Quileute, and Makah for towing home dead whales. Cedar limbs are used for openwork baskets by the Quinault and Squaxin, and also for weaving with vine maple sticks for fish weirs. The roots of the cedar were used widely, for both the coiled and imbricated basket. The wood is used extensively in modern construction, it is light, strong, and resistant to decay; perfect for shingles, shakes, and decking materials.
Medicinal Uses: The Lummi chew the bud for sore lungs, the Cowlitz chew them for toothache, and the Skokomish boil them for a gargle. The Skagit boil the ends of the leaves for coughs. The Chehalis peel the bark of a small tree, and the inner part is chewed or boiled and the liquid drunk to bring about menstruation. The leaves and limbs were used to scour the body in bathing.
Interesting Facts: The tree has spiritual qualities, whalers placed the branches under their bed for good luck. There is also a strong association with this tree and death, Lummi men, when burying a corpse, chew cedar tips to avoid nausea. Cedar limbs, singed, were used by the Lummi as a broom to sweep off the walls of a house after the removal of a corpse. The Skagit burned cedar limbs at night and waved them through the house to scare the ghost after death.

Suggested References

The landscaping and restoration information provided on this page is taken from the Starflower Foundation Image Herbarium. All photographs © Starflower Foundation unless otherwise noted.