Nature Notes

Mount Rainier National Park

Vol. III January 1, 1926 No. 14

Issued monthly during the winter, weekly during the summer by the Mount Rainier Nature Guide Service.
F. W. Schmoe Park Naturalist.

(See cover sketch)

The states of Oregon and Washington and the province of British Columbia owe much to the western red cedar. In fact the red cedar was the most valued tree on the northern coast long before these states were established, for the local Indians depended upon it for many of the necessities of their life.

Great was canoes that were seaworthy and used in whaling and fishing as well as all sorts of smaller crafts were hewn from the huge trunks. The bark was used in building shelters, the inner-bark woven into clothing and baskets, and all sorts of cordage used in fishing and domestic activities were made from it. The wood was hewn into planks from which boxes of many kinds were made and even in fashioning his ceremonial masks and totem poles the Indian usually chose the red cedar.

To the early settler, the pioneer, it was of inestimable value. Houses could be erected and shingled with the bark. The wood was soft and very durable but it was valuable chiefly because it could be readily split into desirable shapes for all sorts of construction purposes. Because of the evenness of the grain it is possible to split cedar planks or shakes that are ten or more feet in length and still straight enough for building purposes. Nearly all the first construction of the early settlers was of hand riven cedar. Many houses still stand that were built from ground-sill to interior finish from split cedar. Many settlers in outlying districts still depend largely upon the cedar for building material. Even some of the new buildings in the Park are being constructed from hand-split cedar 'shakes'.

But it is not the pioneer and the Indian alone that profit from the abundance of this useful tree. Because of its durability no better wood has ever been found for the manufacture of shingles. Ninety percent of the shingles used in the United States are cut from the western red cedar and the manufacture of shingles is one of the leading industries of the Northwest.

So resistant to decay is the wood of the cedar that I have seen logs cut into shingles and sold that we know had lain on the ground for more than 300 years. No, we had no human record of when the tree fell but there were three other trees that had started as seedlings on the prostrate trunk and had grown until their roots reached the ground on either side. The annual rings of the oldest showed more than 300 years of growth.

In the park the red cedar grows in moist areas up to 4000 feet in elevation. Here its place is taken by a distant cousin, the Alaska yellow cedar. Strange as it may seem neither of these trees are true cedars, only three species of which are known. The red cedar is a Thuja or arbor vitae similar to the white cedar of the east and the Yellow cedar is a Chamaecyparis related to the Port Orford Cedar.

No tree of the northwest exceed the red cedar in size attained or length of life. There are trees still standing in the state that are 50 feet in circumference and over 2000 years old. Many cedar trees in the Park are 30 feet in circumference and 1000 years old.

The needles are scale-like, the cones are small, six to then scaled, and born in masses at the tips of the twigs. The bark is grey or reddish, soft and fibrous, the wood reddish, brittle, and has a characteristic odor. The trunks usually flare decidedly at the base.

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