Alaska cedar, also known as Alaska yellow-cedar, yellow-cedar, Alaska cypress, and Nootka cypress, is an important timber species of northwestern America. Alaska cedar is confined to the cool, humid climate of the Pacific Northwest and is one of the slowest growing conifers in the Northwest. Also called Nootka cypress, that name derives from its discovery on the lands of aboriginal peoples, the Nuu-chah-nulth of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, who were formerly referred to as the Nootka. It also happens to be a parent tree of Leyland cypress.
The Alaska cedar has historically been considered a cypress by botanists but often called cedar. Botanists agreed that the tree is indeed a cypress but they could never stay with a particular genus. So the genus name-calling went from Cupressus, to Chamaecyparis (which I still use), to Xanthocyparis, to Callitropsis.
Alaska-cedar is notable within the cypress family for its tolerance of cool and wet conditions. The climate of its natural range is cool and humid. Climatic conditions at elevations where Alaska-cedar grows in the Cascade Range of Washington are somewhat comparable to those at sea level in coastal Alaska. Growing seasons are short.
A graceful, weeping, pyramidal evergreen, Nootka cypress or Alaska cedar can reach 60 to 90 feet in the wild but stays within a height of 35 feet and a spread of 20 feet in cultivation. The trunk remains straight and dominant throughout the life of the tree.
The Range of Alaska Cedar
Nootka Cypress is native to the west coast of North America, from Prince William Sound in Alaska, south to the Klamath Mountains in northernmost California. Alaska cedar is generally found within 100 miles of the Pacific coast.
Alaska cedar makes a striking specimen, with a distinct, graceful, weeping habit. Even one plant will soften any landscape. Use it near water or around a patio or as a lawn specimen in residential or commercial landscapes. It reportedly does best with some shade from the afternoon sun, particularly in the southern part of its range. Trees in full sun look great in higher planting zones.