Western Red Cedar
At a Glance: Large conifer with branches that droop and then turn back up (J-shaped), broad crowns.
|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.
|Prefers nutrient rich soils with poor drainage.|
well drained soils
nutrient rich soils
nutrient poor soils
Aquatic and Wetland:
Ponds or lakes
Swales or wet ditches
Seasonally inundated areas
Marshes or swamps
Aquatic bed wetlands
Seeps, springsShorelines and Riparian:
Streams or rivers
Stream or river banks
In or near saltwater
Coastal dunes or beachesRocky or Gravelly Areas:
Slide areasSub-alpine and Alpine:
Forests and Thickets:
Forests and woods
Old growth forests
Forest edges, openings, or clearings
ThicketsMeadows and Fields:
Pastures or fields
Meadows or grassy areas
Mossy areasDisturbed Areas:
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.
- Alden, P., D. Paulson. 1998. National Audubon Society, Field Guide to the Pacific Northwest. Chanticleer Press. Page 97.
- Brockman, F.C. 1968. A Guide to Field Identification: Trees of North America. Western Publishing Company. Page .
- Cooke, S.S. A Field Guide to the Common Wetland Plants of Western Washington and Northwetern Oregon. Seattle Audubon Society and Washington Native Plant Society. Page 12.
- Guard, B.J. 1995. Wetland Plants of Oregon & Washington. Lone Pine Publishing. Page 216.
- Gunther, E. 1973. 2nd ed. Ethnobotany of Western Washington. University of Washington Press. Page 19.
- Hickman, J.C., ed. 1993. The Jepson Manual: Higher Plants of California. University of California Press. Page 114.
- Jacobson A.L. 2001. Wild Plants of Greater Seattle. Published by author. Page 54.
- Lyons, C., W. Merilees. Trees and Shrubs to Know in Washington and British Columbia. Lone Pine Publishing. Page 75.
- Pojar, J., A. Mackinnon. 1994. Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Lone Pine Publishing. Page 42.
- Turner, N.AJ. 1975. Food Plants of British Columbia Indians: part 1, Coastal Peoples. British Columbia Provincial Museum. Page 70.
The landscaping and restoration information provided on this page is taken from the Starflower Foundation Image Herbarium. All photographs © Starflower Foundation unless otherwise noted.