Western Red Cedar

Scientific Name: Thuja plicata

Other Common Names: Western red cedar, great western arborvitae, canoe cedar, pacific red cedar, shinglewood, giant red cedar

The characteristics of western red cedar includes warmth, natural durability, dimensional stability, versatility, distinctiveness; one of the world’s most beautiful woods; no man-made material can duplicate its naturally luxurious appearance and high-performance quality. Western red cedar is ideal for a variety uses in a wide range of products because it is lightweight, easy to handle and pitch and resin-free. Its fibres contain natural compounds that act as preservatives, making the wood extremely long lasting.

In Canada, western red cedar (Thuja plicata) is confined to British Columbia where it is one of the largest trees in the Pacific region. It is found on the coast as far north as Alaska and in the valleys of the interior wet belt. Cedar grows singly or in scattered patches, never in pure stands of any extent. It comprises about 20% of mature coastal forests. A slow-growing, naturally durable tree, it has the longest life span of any tree in the British Columbia coastal forest, where the best specimens are found. Mature trees are massive in size, with a flared base and a thick weathered bark, reddish brown in color and characteristically stringy and fibrous. An aura of myth and legend has always surrounded the Western red cedar, once called the giant arborvitae – tree of life – dating from the days that the first peoples of the west coast used it in their everyday lives for clothing, baskets, houses and boats. Fragrantly aromatic when freshly cut, Western red cedar is known and respected as one of Canada’s most beautiful and durable wood species, and one of its most commercially valuable. All forest products companies harvesting western red cedar in coastal British Columbia recognize that the forest is a precious resource that must be carefully managed and continually renewed. Intensive silvicultural and forest protection operations help renew the Western red cedar resource.

The wood’s appearance and properties

Western red cedar’s slow growth and its naturally occurring fungicidal compounds in the wood called thujuplicins produce the wood’s fine grain, decay resistance and rich coloring that is its trademark. Another extractive present in the wood, thujic acid, helps make the species resistant to insect attack. The narrow sapwood is a light straw color and the heartwood is a blend of warm earth tones, from pale yellow through reddish pink to chocolate brown.