The western red-cedar: A 1500 year old giant

Western Redceder
Away from the coast, pure groves of redcedar are limited to forested wetlands or sections of alluvial forest in the north Cascades, such as this stand from a swamp in the south Cascades. Photo: DNR

The western red-cedar is a tree that continues to surpass the others. Not only is it the largest tree in the Pacific Northwest, it is also one of the longest lived tree species in western Washington. Some western red-cedars have been recorded to reach 1,500 years of age. (The tree’s name is spelled either red-cedar or redcedar to indicate that it is not a “true” cedar, which grows only in Mediterranean regions.)

The age of a western red-cedar can be roughly estimated by looking at the tree’s crown. For the first several centuries, the top of the red-cedar has a relatively simple crown. However, with age, the crown form changes and candelabra tops – which are often seen in ancient trees – begin to emerge. (See drawing).

Western Redceder Drawing
Changes in crown form of western redcedar over time. Note that trees remain relatively simple for the first several centuries — it is only in great age that the individual character and candelabra tops often seen in ancient stands emerge. Drawing: DNR

Interesting facts like this and more can be found in DNR’s guides for identifying old trees and forests in Washington: Identifying Mature and Old Forests in Western Washington and Identifying Old Trees and Forests in Eastern Washington, both written by Robert Van Pelt, PhD. Both guidebooks are free to download.

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