Thuja plicata D. Don

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Article from Bean's Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles

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'Thuja plicata' from the website Trees and Shrubs Online ( Accessed 2024-05-20.


Common Names

  • Western Red Cedar


  • T. gigantea Nutt.
  • T. lobbii Hort. ex Gord.
  • T. menziesii Dougl. ex Endl.


(pl. apices) Tip. apical At the apex.
Small branch or twig usually less than a year old.
Grey-blue often from superficial layer of wax (bloom).


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Article from Bean's Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles

Recommended citation
'Thuja plicata' from the website Trees and Shrubs Online ( Accessed 2024-05-20.

A tree up to 200 ft high in the wild, with a trunk sometimes 15 ft in diameter at the buttressed base; in cultivation a slender, pyramidal tree in some places already approaching 100 ft in height. Unless close-planted it retains its branches to the ground, but is inclined to become thin at the top. Branches curving upwards at the ends, branchlets drooping, strong-smelling and slightly aromatic when crushed; ultimate subdivisions 116 to 112 in. wide, flattened. Leaves dark glossy green, scale-like, 112 to 18 in. long; the lateral ones the longer, with their edges infolded and overlapping the flatter ones above and below the twig; they are all sharply pointed and have glaucous patches beneath. Cones egg-shaped, 12 in. long; scales about ten, with a small triangular boss just beneath the apex.

Native of the coastal ranges of western N. America from S.E. Alaska to northernmost California, and with a second area in the northwestern Rocky Mountains. It was discovered at the end of the 18th century during the Malaspina expedition and was described by David Don in Lambert’s The Genus Pinus from a specimen collected by Taddaeus Haenkel, assistant to Née, chief botanist to the expedition, on Nootka Sound (Née himself is usually credited with the discovery though he in fact remained in Mexico while the expedition explored northwards). It was introduced by Thomas Lobb in 1853 (possibly two years earlier to Scotland by John Jeffrey, for the Oregon Association), and the horticultural name T. lobbii has clung to it ever since.

T. plicata is distinguished from the E. American T. occidentalis by the glaucousness of the underside of the branchlet, the absence or obscurity of gland-pits on the upper surface of the leaves, and its much more rapid, cleaner growth. From T. standishii it differs in its denser habit, finer spray, and different odour.

Although not strong, the timber of the western thuya is easily worked, remarkably light, does not warp, and is remarkably resistant to decay. Imported into Britain, western red cedar is much used for garden buildings, outdoor furniture, cladding, etc., and in its native country for making roof shingles. It is also the wood from which most pencils are made.

In Britain T. plicata has proved by far the handsomest and best growing of the thuyas. Although commonest as a specimen tree, it is also useful for hedges and shelter belts and has been planted to some extent as a forest tree. In its native forests the western red cedar attains maturity at an age of about 100 years, but home-grown timber from stands half that age is of good quality and is used mainly for fencing, gates and ladder poles. The principal drawback of this species is that seedlings are often attacked by the fungus Didymascella (Keithia) thujina.

T. plicata grows well over much of the country, on all except very dry soils, but the best specimens are in the Atlantic zone, as is usually the case with the conifers of the American Pacific region. The most remarkable English specimens are: Stourhead, Wilts, behind the Lake, pl. c. 1854, 115 × 1614 ft (1976), by the entrance, 105 × 1414 ft (1976); Fonthill, Wilts, from 1860 seed, 120 × 15 ft (1963) and 115 × 14 ft (1976); Bicton, Devon, 128 × 1414 ft (1968) and 120 × 15 ft (1963); Rhinefield Drive, New Forest, pl. 1861, 132 × 12 ft (1976); and, to indicate growth outside the optimum area, National Pinetum, Bedgebury, Kent, pl. 1916, 63 × 514 ft (1970).

Among the largest examples in Scotland are: Strone, Argyll, pl. 1875, 129 × 1614 ft (1976); Inveraray, Argyll, Lime Kilns, 117 × 1514 ft (1969); Belladrum, Inverness-shire, 115 × 1614 ft (1970).

T. plicata has given rise to fewer cultivars than T. occidentalis:

From the Supplement (Vol. V)

specimens: National Pinetum, Bedgebury, Kent, pl. 1926 (not 1916 as stated on page 585), 70 × 612 ft (1978) and 72 × 614 ft (1980); Bolderwood (For. Comm.), New Forest, Hants, pl. 1861, 132 × 1934 ft at 3 ft (1979); Rhinefield Drive (For. Comm.), New Forest, 135 × 1212 ft (1979); Rhinefield Lodge, New Forest, 110 × 16 ft (1981); Stourhead, Wilts., pl. c. 1854, 115 × 1612 ft (1980) and, by Entrance, 105 × 1514 ft (1982); Nettlecombe, Som., 115 × 1434 ft (1984); Castlehill, Devon, 121 × 1734 ft (1983); Bicton, Devon, 138 × 1434 ft and 130 × 1834 ft, forking (1977); Killerton, Devon, near old entrance, 124 × 1434 ft (1983); Tregothnan, Cornwall, 88 × 17 ft (1983); Golden Grove, Dyfed, Pinetum, 102 × 1614 ft (1982); Coed Coch, Clwyd, 111 × 1712 ft (1985); Hafodunos, Clwyd, 111 × 1612 ft (1984); Munches, Kirkcud., Wagon Road, pl. 1861, 121 × 15 ft (1985); Kilkerran, Ayrs., 98 × 1512 ft (1984); Stonefield, Argyll, Loch Drive, 138 × 1212 ft (1981); Benmore, Argyll, Glen Masson, 138 × 1434 ft (1983); Strone, Argyll, pl. 1875, 150 × 1714 ft (1985); Inveraray, Argyll, Lime Kilns, 121 × 16 ft (1982); Murthly Castle, Perths., Castle Terrace, 138 × 1112 ft (1983) and, Chapel Steps, 121 × 1412 ft (1983); Altyre, Moray, American Garden, 108 × 15 ft, fine bole (1980); Balmacaan, Inv., 118 × 18 ft, forking, and 120 × 2514 ft at 2 ft, on five stems (1980); Glengarry Castle, Inv., 105 × 2014 ft, dividing into six stems by 6 ft (1978); Belladrum, Inv., 130 × 18 ft (1980); Brahan House, E. Ross, East Drive, pl. 1866, 105 × 1614 ft (1982); Armadale Castle, Skye, 95 × 16 ft (1978); Powerscourt, Co. Wicklow, Eire, Pepperpot Garden, 115 × 1734 ft (1980); Abbeyleix, Co. Laois, Eire, 88 × 1714 ft (1985).

cv. ‘Fastigiata. – This is rare. The specimen in the National Pinetum, Bedgebury, Kent, measures 40 × 234 ft (1983), planted in 1939.

cv. ‘Rogersii’. – As mentioned on page 585, ‘Stoneham Gold’ is more vigorous than ‘Rogersii’. Although slow at first, it should reach 6 ft or somewhat more in height (Welch, Man. Dwf Conif., p. 467).

cv. ‘Semperaurescens’. – There are three specimens (not one) at Westonbirt, 68–77 ft high and 5–634 ft in girth (1979–81); and one at Colesbourne, Glos., measuring 72 × 8 ft (1984).

cv. ‘Zebrina. – Some specimens of known planting date are: Little Hall, Canterbury, pl. 1906, 66 × 412 ft (1984); Tilgate Sussex, pl. 1905, 62 × 612 ft (1982); Dropmore, Bucks., pl. 1902, 75 × 712 ft (1982); Stourhead, Wilts., pl. 1906, 80 × 914 ft (1980).


Foliage dark green and glossy, in broad sprays. Smith of Worcester, 1874.


A fast growing, columnar tree with short horizontal branches and dark green glossy foliage. Put into commerce by J. Timm and Co. of Elmshorn, Germany. It is an excellent hedging plant.


Branches steeply ascending; foliage dense. As a hedging plant it needs less clipping than the normal form and also makes a good specimen (T. menziesii fastigiata Carr.; T. plicata var. pyramidalis Bean).


Sprays finer and with smaller leaves. Rare in cultivation and of no value.


A slow-growing bush with stout, crowded branches and branchlets, the leaf-sprays borne in irregular whorls. Eventually 8 or 10 ft high. ‘A very irregular bush, with foliage so dense that one wonders how light or moisture can ever penetrate its centre.’ (Hornibrook). Raised by Messrs Hillier about 1900.

'Rogersii' ('Rogersii Aurea')

A dwarf, very slow-growing golden bush of ellipsoid or broadly conical habit, densely foliaged. Raised by George Gardiner for Messrs Rogers about 1914 but not described until 1929, when the mother plant was only 2{3/4} ft high (Gard. Chron., Vol. 85 (1929), p. 50; ibid., Vol. 149 (1961), p. 502).Another of Mr Gardiner’s raising is ‘Stoneham Gold’, put into commerce by Messrs Rogers in 1948 but raised much earlier. It is more vigorous and less dense, the older leaves dark green, the younger bright gold. Both were raised from a tree grown under the name T. plicata aurea.


Leaves yellowish green. Rare. There is an example at Westonbirt, Glos.


Spray with curious patches of yellow interspersed with the ordinary green of the current year’s shoots. It is a more attractive conifer than this description would suggest, the tree being shapely and dense, and from a short distance appearing golden-green – a colour that is constant throughout the year. Its origin is uncertain, but it is probably a renaming of one of several clones cultivated in the last century as T. gigantea aureovariegata. A tree under the present name was introduced to Kew about 1900. The oldest dated examples were planted soon after that and are now 60 to 70 ft or slightly more high (measured 1968–76). Trees of this size grow at Bicton, Devon; Stourhead, Wilts; Nymans and Tilgate, Sussex; Grayswood Church, near Haslemere, Surrey; Hardwicke, Suffolk.