Western Red Cedar identification

The Western Red Cedar Thuja plicata, a conifer native to Western Canada and USA was introduced to Britain in 1853. It is not a ‘true’ cedar; it gets its name from having wood that looks and smells like the ‘true’ cedars – Cedar of Lebanon, Deodar and Atlas Cedar. It can grow very rapidly and is widely planted in gardens, parks and forestry plantations. On the Pacific coast the tree can grow to 60m. The timber from the tree is highly prized for cladding, decking and general appearance. In the Pacific north west it was used for canoes and totem poles. In Britain it has been used in the new Welsh Assembly Building in Cardiff.

The Western Red Cedar is a member of the Thuja genus. Thuja varieties are widely available from Nurseries and Garden Centres. There are 8 varieties of Thuja plicata alone in Hilliers Guide. They are used for hedging and screening. Dwarf varieties and full trees are grown as ornamental plants.

Its scale-like leaves are similar to the Lawson Cypress but its flask-shaped cones are different and can be confused only with the Incense Cedar. Its leaves emit a fruity smell when touched.

Western  Red Cedar trees

Plantation of Western Red Cedars

Western  Red Cedar young tree

Younger trees are conical in shape

Western  Red Cedar leaves

The scale-covered shoots hang down in flat sprays. The undersides of the leaves have white markings. The leaves emit a strong smell of pineapple if they are crushed between the fingers. This is a very good way of identifying a Western Red Cedar if you can’t see any cones

Western  Red Cedar bark

The bark is soft and stringy but in plantations it may be harder and ridged

Western  Red Cedar cone

New cone in early September. The cone is similar to that of the Incense Cedar but about half the size.

Western  Red Cedar cones

The cones stand upright in large numbers, whereas those of the Incense Cedar hang down in small numbers.

Western  Red Cedar cones

The cones turn brown in October.

Western  Red Cedar cone and seeds

They open to release seeds.