Cedar trees are members of the cypress family. Their leaves are slender, evergreen and needle-like. Many cedar species are found across North American. To determine a cedar tree's species botanists examine the tree's leaves and the patterns in which the leaves cluster along twig-like branches to form signature sprays.
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Western Red Cedar
Also called Pacific red cedar, giant red cedar, western aborivitae and canoe cedar, western red cedar (Thuja plicata Donn ex D. Don ) grows along the western coast of North America and features needles joined in fan-like sprays. The needles are flat and pointed. They have a shiny green top and white stripes on their undersides. When crushed the leaves give off a fragrance described as "spicy."
Atlantic White Cedar
Atlantic white cedar trees have pale wood and are found along the Atlantic coast of North America. Like the western red cedar, their leaves are joined in fan-shaped sprays but Atlantic white cedar leaves overlap giving a denser and less frond-like appearance. The leaves are dark blue green on both sides.
Port Orford Cedar
Port Orford Cedar (Cupressaceae Chamaecyparis lawsoniana) branches are frond-like and hang heavily from the tree's trunk. The visual effect is one of lush, cascading green branches. The cause of this effect are the spray's dense leaf arrangement. Like the leaves of a Christmas cactus, where one leaf connects to another similar to a snake's scales, flat blue-green leaves arranged in sets of four grow from branchlets. The leaves are 1/16 to 1/18 inch long with white patterns on their undersides.
Alaska Yellow Cedar
Like the Port Orford cedar the Alaska yellow cedar (Cupressaceae Callitropsis nootkatensis) displays a scale-like pattern composed of 1/16 to 1/18 inch long leaves. Instead of giving a smooth, geometric appearance, these yellow and blue green leaves appear rough and textured. Their edges are sharp and grow off the edges of their supporting twigs. This gives the leaves and branchlets a coarse feel and look.
Northern White Cedar
Alaska, Port Orford and western Cedar are found predominately along North America's northwestern coastline. The northern white cedar (Cupressaceae Thuja occidentalis L.) is found in throughout northeast Canada, both along the coast and inland. The tree's leaves grow laterally off main shoots in flat scaly configurations. The leaves are not needle-like. Instead, the flat leaves are 1/4 inch long with irregular 1/8-inch-long short points. New growth is bright green, turning brown with age.
- USDA Plant Guide: Western Red Cedar
- USDA Plant Guide: Atlantic White Cedar
- Virginia Tech Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation: Port-Oford-Cedar Fact Sheet
- Virginia Tech Forest Resources And Environmental Conservation: Alaska Yellow Cedar Fact Sheet
- Virginia Tech Forest Resources And Environmental Conservation: Northern White Cedar Fact Sheet