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Alaska Cedar, The Most Debated Name in the Cypress Family

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Alaska Cedar, The Most Debated Name in the Cypress Family

Alaska Cedar Tree Form

USFS/State Foresters

Introduction to the Alaska cedar:

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 Range:

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.

The Many Alaska Cedar Scientific Name Changes:

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. I'll stick with the scientific name of Chamaecyparis nootkatensis but concede that Callitropsis nootkatensis is the real botanical name.

Identify an Alaska-cedar:

Alaska-cedar is an evergreen of medium to large height, to 100 feet tall. The tree is also dwarfed at high elevations. The small seed cones are "berry-like" and glaucous, bluish to purple. The foliage sprays droop and the leaves have conspicuous glands that produce resin drops. These drooping branchlets give the tree a graceful weeping appearance and makes an attractive specimen tree in the landscape. The bark is rough, fibrous and furrowed.

The Leyland Cypress Connection:

Alaska-cedar is known to hybridize with Sargent cypress in the wild and that mix ultimately is cultivated as the Leyland cypress hybrid. So, Alaska-cedar is in the parentage of the commercial hybrid Leyland cypress along with the other parent, Monterey Cypress, also in genus Cupressus.

Uses of Alaska Cedar:

Great wood attributes of Alaska-cedar include durability, freedom from splitting and checking, resistance to acid, smooth-wearing qualities, and excellent characteristics for milling. Nootka cypress is suitable for boatbuilding, utility poles, heavy flooring, framing, bridge and dock decking, marine piling, window boxes, stadium seats, water and chemical tanks, cooling towers, bedding for heavy machinery, furniture, patterns, molding, sash, doors, paneling, toys, musical instruments, and carving. The wood is highly regarded in Japan, and most high-quality logs are exported.

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