Port Orford Cedar

Basic Information
Tree ID: 
Genus and species: 
Named after the Edinburgh nurseryman Charles Lawson, the Chamaecyparis lawsoniana (Port Orford-Cedar) is large evergreen tree native to Oregon and northwest California. This evergreen can grow up to 200ft tall, with a trunk width anywhere between 4-7ft, and leaves between 3-5mm long. Along with its impressive size, the Port Orford Cedar can live for hundreds of years. The wood of the tree is considered to be one of the most valuable harvested in North America because of its durability, beauty, and scarcity. For generations, native people such as the Hoopa Valley Tribe has used the Cedar as a valuable resource to build ceremonial structures, referring to the tree as "the Healer."
Tamara Simpson and Helen Zhao
Collected Data
Tree shape: 
Date of tree entry: 
16.30 m
Diameter at breast height: 
13.30 m

The bark of the Port Orford Cedar is brown, with flat ridges and furrows. The wood of the tree is strong, fine-grained, and has a distinct ginger aroma, which makes it insect resistant and also resistant to rotting. The wood is in high demand in east Asia, where it is commonly used to build shrines and temples. In the United States, the wood is also commonly used to make arrow shafts. Older trees can have bark as thick as 8 inches near the base, which have protected them from many a forest fire.
Twigs & branches
Young twigs are flat and a yellow-green color. As they mature, they are red-brown in color.
The leaves of Chamaecyparis lawsoniana are blue-green, narrow, flat, and scale-like. The underside of the leaves have unique white markings, that look like small, white X's. Unlike the leaves of most other conifers, which are arranged in spirals, the leaves of Chamaecyparis lawsoniana are arranged in decussate opposite pairs, where successive pairs of leaves are arranged at right angles to each other. Since the tree is an evergreen, it does not shed its leaves and therefore remains green year-round.
Reproductive Structures
The Port Orford Cedar is monoecious, meaning the female and male reproductive structures are carried on the same plant. These evergreens possess seed cones that are about 7-14mm in diameter, with scales that are green and/or brown (depending on maturation). Male cones are slightly smaller (3-4 mm) and have a distinctive red color.
The Port Orford Cedar is a gymnosperm, which means that it does not bear fruit.
  • Cones in winter
  • Cones in Spring
  • Port Orford Cedar in Spring
  • Port Orford Cedar in the Winter
Natural range of distribution: 
The Chaemaecyparis lawsoniana is a species of conifer native to southwest Oregon and northwest California. It typically grows in stands at sea level along the coast, though there are also isolated inland populations, which can be found at altitudes as high as 5,000 ft in the Klamath Mountains. Despite its limited range, it can also tolerate a diverse range of habitats, from the sandy patches along the coast to valleys in the mountains. The oldest and largest trees can be found in deep soils but Port Orford can also grow in bogs and sand dunes. Since the Port Orford Cedar grows primarily near the coast, the Pacific Ocean plays an important role in controlling the climate where the tree grows. Summers and warm and dry while winters are cool and wet.
Origin, history, and uses: 

The Port Orford Cedar was first discovered in Port Orford in Oregon in the 19th century. Its scientific name, Chamaecyparis lawsoniana​, honors Charles Lawson, a nurseryman from Edinburgh, Scotland, who first introduced the species to cultivation.

The wood of the Port Orford Cedar is very valuable due to its strength and fine grain. Most of the wood is exported to Japan, where it is commonly used for the construction of coffins, temples, and shrines. Domestically, its fine grain and strength also makes it the preferred wood for manufacturing arrow shafts and stringed instruments. It is also commonly used in the construction of venetian blinds, doors, bridges, and many other structures.

In recent years, the Port Orford Cedar has also become a popular ornamental plant due to its aesthetic appearance. 

The Port Orford cedar is a conifer, which means that it retains its leaves year-round and generally does not change in its overall appearance. Seed production starts when the tree is 5 to 20 years old. It has a year-long reproductive cycle, where female cones are first formed in the late spring or summer and is pollinated by pollen cones the following spring. Female cones are spherical with scales and brown in color by the time they mature. Male cones are smaller and a distinctive red color. They turn brown after releasing pollen. Maturation occurs 6-8 months following pollination.

Seiler, John. “Chamaecyparis Lawsoniana.” Chamaecyparis Lawsoniana Fact Sheet. Virginia Tech, 2016. Web. 17 Apr. 2017. <http://dendro.cnre.vt.edu/dendrology/syllabus/factsheet.cfm?ID=204>.

“Port Orford Cedar – Chamaecyparis lawsoniana.” Port Orford Cedar. Northwest Conifers, 2012. Web. 20 Apr. 2017.

Lang, Frank A. “Port Orford Cedar.” The Oregon Encyclopedia. The Oregon Encyclopedia, n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2017. <https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/port_orford_cedar/>.

Port-Orford-cedar. Washington, D.C.: n.p., 1987. United States Department of Agriculture. Web. <https://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/documnts/usda/amwood/228porto.pdf>.

Other information of interest: 

In the past few decades, the species has been plagued by a root disease caused by the fungus Phytophthora lateralis, which has threatened its place in the wild and decimated many populations. The spread of the disease was facilitated by humans via contaminated soil and water on the tires of many trucks. The trees tend to succumb to the trees after 10 or more years of infection, killing most trees before they are large enough to be sold as timber. Currently, the only defenses against the disease are quarantine and the evolution of disease-resistant trees. 

Media and Arts
Inspired by the beauty, strength, elegance, and presence a Port Orford Cedar adds to a forest, we were inspired to write a cover to a song that similarly conveyed a sense of permanence and lasting. This cover reflects on the relationship between an individual and the Port Orford Cedar, with a sense of nostalgia and trust. 
~To the tune of My Girl, by the Temptations
I’ve got my tree on a cloudy day
When it rains outside, its scaly leaves shelter me
I guess you’d say
What can make me feel this way?
Port Orford Cedar
Talkin’ ‘bout my sweet evergreen
You are native to Pacific Northwest
You stand 200 ft tall.. the giant of the forest
I guess you’d say
What can make me feel this way?
Port Orford Cedar
Talkin’ ‘bout my sweet evergreen
Hey hey hey
Hey hey hey
I don’t need no money, when I can rely on you
Your wood is so high in demand in Asia, I’ll be set for life
I guess you’d say 
What can make me feel this way?
Port Orford Cedar
Talkin’ ‘bout my sweet evergreen 
I’ve got my tree on a cloudy day