Incense cedar is a conifer native from central-western Oregon through most of California and the extreme west of Nevada, and also a short distance into northern Baja California. It grows at altitudes of 50-2900 m.
It is a large tree, typically reaching heights of 40-60 m and a trunk diameter of up to 3 m (maxima, 69 m tall and 4.5 m diameter), and with a broad conic crown of spreading branches. The bark is orange-brown weathering grayish, smooth at first, becoming fissured and exfoliating in long strips on the lower trunk on old trees. The bright-green foliage is produced in flattened sprays with scale-like leaves 2-15 mm long.
The seed cones are 20-35 mm long, and look like the open beak of a duck. They turn orange to yellow-brown when mature about 8 months after pollination.
This tree is the preferred host of a wood wasp, Syntexis libocedrii, a living fossil species which lays its eggs in the smoldering wood immediately after a forest fire.
Cultivation and Uses
The wood is the primary material for wooden pencils, because it is soft and tends to sharpen easily without forming splinters.
It is also a popular ornamental tree, valued for its drought tolerance. It is grown particularly in cool summer climates for its very narrow columnar crown. This narrow crown is not restricted to selected cultivars but is an unexplained consequence of the climatic conditions in these areas, and is not shown by trees in the wild.
- Light Requirements: Full Sun
- Water Requirements: Dry
- Ease of Growing: Easy to grow
- Growth Rate: Slow
- Spreads: No
- Wildlife Support: Birds or Mammals
- Edible: No
- Mature Height: 100-150ft
- Mature Width: 30ft