From Alaska south to Oregon western redcedar (Thuja plicata) is the signature tree of the Pacific Northwest temperate rainforest. It has mythic importance to native people, as entire civilizations were sustained, in large part, by this species. Natives of the Pacific Northwest regarded the species as a “Long Life Maker” (Stewart 1984) because they used it for canoes, paddles, houses, roofs, clothes, bedding, rope, cooking, and even medicine. Few giant trees were actually felled before the arrival of Europeans because old snags were usable for many years after death. Highly resistant to rot, the snags or parts of live trees would be harvested instead of the entire live tree. After building a dugout canoe from a tree, Lewis and Clark named it “arbor vitae,” Latin for “tree of life” (Arno 2007).
Western redcedar is problematic to see in California, particularly old-growth specimens, because it has probably never been regionally common in the Holocene. This species reaches the southern extension of its North American range just south of the Eel River Valley. The other signature trees of the Pacific Northwest—Sitka spruce and western hemlock—grow in a few scattered populations south of Humboldt County. While western redcedar does not, all three reach their southern range extension in relative proximity. Due to the disjunct nature of its California distribution, there are few places to see western redcedar in the region. Predictable habitat includes wet streamsides or cool, damp, north-facing hillsides. It also survives in coastal yards of Humboldt and Del Norte counties, though only for a short time—these landscaping trees rarely get very big or old.
Measuring California’s Largest Western Redcedar
The California Registry of Big Trees did not have a record for this species as of 2019. In December, we changed that. A dedicated crew hiked 6 miles to measure and nominate a new California record! What follows is a photo collage of the trip.