The cedar trees in our area of South Surrey are one of 30 species, belonging to the pine, cypress and other coniferous cone bearing evergreen families. Thuja Plicata is our native Western Red Cedar and is a member of this group. They are “monoecious”, which means that they produce male and female cones on the same tree every other year or so. Western Red Cedars are a pioneer species and were the first trees to colonize cleared land. This cedar grows up to 60 meters tall in moist soils in mixed coniferous forests such as Redwood Park and Watershed Park. It has red/brown bark with thin long vertical strips that is easily peeled. Its leaves develop in sprays of about 15 cm long with small aromatic leaves. The twigs, leaves, bark and roots were all used medicinally by native peoples. Other names for Thuja Plicata are: “canoe wood and shingle wood”.
The Lebanon cedar (Cedrus Libani), is the national emblem of the Lebanese republic and appears on their flag, symbolizing immortality and tolerance. This tree is also on the logo of the Middle Eastern Airlines. A relative, Thuja orientalis or Arbor Vitae, which means “tree of life”, grows in the Eastern part of Canada and United States. Some fine specimens can be found in Redwood Park as well as many other beautiful non-native trees that were planted in this park in the early 1900’s.
The Deodor Cedar (Cedrus Deodora) known for its weeping habit, often seen in our neighborhood gardens, is not a true cedar. Forests of these cedars in Pradesh, India were considered sacred places where Hindu sages lived and meditated. This tree is the National tree of Pakistan.
Poles out of Western Red Cedar were used as markers in hunting territories by natives. Oil derived from these trees is still used today as natural repellents for insect and for closet linings. Guitar boards are made of this wood as well. European settlers have used this wood from broom handles to cedar rail fences that still line many a farm property today. Cedar wood was used in ancient times in the ship building industry.
Cedars provide shelter for many mammals and birds all year long. Squirrels as well as pine siskins, juncos and redpolls enjoy the seeds this tree provides. Snowshoe hares and deer nibble on the twigs and leaves to sustain themselves through the winter.
Aboriginal tribes have used these trees as medicinal herbs for many purposes, from treating infections, with ointments made from the natural oils of the tree to teas rich in vitamin C made from the young tips of the leaves. Clothing was made from the tree bark and huge totem poles and canoes were carved from this lightweight wood and bark. The chemical substance in the mature trees, called Thujaplicin prevents the wood from rotting. It acts as a natural fungicide and has anti-bacterial properties. This effect in the tree can last up to 100 years after the tree is felled!
Many people are allergic to plicata acid in the tree’s wood, this is a serious hazard in the wood industry, it can also cause cedar induced asthma!
This beautiful, native and hardy tree on its own, or maintained as a hedge can be a jewel in your yard! Great looking built as a fence on our property lines and durable as shingles on our roofs!
The Western Red Cedar is BC”s official tree!