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Thuja plicata (Western red cedar)
Cressler, Alan

Thuja plicata

Thuja plicata Donn ex D. Don

Western Red Cedar, Western Arborvitae, Canoe Cedar

Cupressaceae (Cypress Family)



USDA Native Status: L48 (N), AK (N), CAN (N)

Western Arborvitae or Western Red Cedar is a narrow, pyramidal to squat-statured tree, buttressed at the base, tapering upward to a simple or divided apex. It usually maintains its lower branches. The evergreenís typical height is 50-75 ft., but it can grow to 200 ft. The aromatic foliage is bright green and scale-like, forming horizontal sprays which bronzes to crimson-purple in winter. Large to very large tree with tapering trunk, buttressed at base, and with a narrow, conical crown of short, spreading branches drooping at ends; foliage is resinous and aromatic.

Particularly resistant to rot, Western Red Cedar is the chief wood for shingles and one of the most important for siding, utility poles, fenceposts, paneling, outdoor-patio construction, and boatbuilding. Indians of the Northwest Coast carved their famous totem poles and split lumber for their lodges from this durable softwood. The name "Canoe Cedar" refers to the special war canoes hollowed out of giant trunks. Indians also used the wood for boxes, batons, and helmets and the fibrous inner bark for rope, roof thatching, blankets, and cloaks. The largest Western Red Cedar measures 21' (6.4 m) in diameter, ranking second only to the Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) among native trees; however, this species is not among the tallest.


From the Image Gallery

1 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Tree
Leaf Retention: Evergreen
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Fruit Type: Cone
Size Notes: Up to about 200 feet tall.
Leaf: Green

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: Red , Purple
Bloom Time: Apr


USA: AK , CA , ID , MT , OR , WA
Canada: AB , BC
Native Distribution: S. AK, s. to n. CA & n.w. MT
Native Habitat: Moist flats; river banks; swamps

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Medium
Light Requirement: Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist , Wet
CaCO3 Tolerance: Medium
Soil Description: Moist, slightly acidic soils.
Conditions Comments: Western red cedar is a very useful, ornamental conifer. It responds nicely to pruning and is sometimes used as hedge material. It has a slow to medium growth rate, is susceptible to bagworm and heart rot, and is pH adaptable.


Use Other: First Nations of the Pacific coast carved totem poles out of this tree. (Hosie)
Attracts: Butterflies
Larval Host: Rosner's Hairstreak (Callophrys rosneri)


Description: Cuttings taken in Dec. or Jan. and treated with hormone root very well. Western cedar is also easily grown from layers or seeds. Occasional dormant seeds are found which require stratification.
Seed Treatment: Stratify at 34-41 degrees for 30-60 days. No treatment may give satisfactory results.
Commercially Avail: yes

Find Seed or Plants

View propagation protocol from Native Plants Network.

National Wetland Indicator Status

This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1 (Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here for map of regions.

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden - Santa Barbara, CA


Bibref 841 - Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants (2006) Burrell, C. C.

Search More Titles in Bibliography

Web Reference

Webref 38 - Flora of North America (2019) Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.

Additional resources

USDA: Find Thuja plicata in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Thuja plicata in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Thuja plicata


Record Modified: 2023-03-23
Research By: TWC Staff

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