Port Orford Cedar


Information about Port Orford Cedar


Facts about Port Orford Cedar

Valuable Wood

Years ago, the Japanese fell in love with the wood of Port-Orford-cedar because its light color and straight grain reminded them of their sacred Hinoki, a close relative of Port-Orford-cedar.  Their heavy buying and the small supply of trees make the better logs very high priced.  The wood of Port-Orford-cedar is durable, easy to work, aromatic, and pleasingly textured.  Locally it’s used similarly to western red cedar.  Although archers once used it for arrow shafts, they now rely principally on fiberglass and aluminum alloys.

The Future

While Port-Orford-cedar’s future seems uncertain, scientists are hopeful that Nature’s evolutionary process of building disease-resistant strains will enable the species to survive.  Individual trees that are naturally resistant to Phytophthora are found in the forest; perhaps artificial propagation can increase their numbers.

Similar to Port-Orford-cedar.  Alaska-cedar is a close relative of Port-Orford-cedar.

About 1950 a cloud appeared in the shape of a killing root rot.

The appearance of Port-Orford-cedar can be changed under cultivation.  Nurserymen call this tree “Cypress” and have developed more than 100 ornamental varieties from the forest species.

Lawson Cypress

The tallest of all cypresses.  Wood – very fine-grained, faint yellowish white, somewhat aromatic, highly valued as a cabinet wood but the supply is limited.  Also called Ginger Pine.

Large to very large tree of Pacific coast in southwestern Oregon and northwestern California.

(Coos Bay) to California (Klamath River) extending inland about 40 miles.

… from within a few miles of the sea to from 10 to 40 miles inland and reaching to 5000 feet elevation on seaward slopes  of Coast Range Mountains.

Wood – pale yellowish-brown with slight reddish-brown tinge, with a distinct aromatic odor, fairly hard and firm, very durable under exposure of any kind, limited in quantity but of extremely high commercial value.

The Port Orford Cedar and the Alaska Cedar are really cypresses and belong to a genus called “ground cypresses,” including about a half-dozen species found in Asia and America.  The wood of our two species is much the same in color and texture, and although very valuable, the amount available is limited.  So far as known, the Port Orford Cedar grows nowhere in the western hemisphere except in the comparatively small area along the coast of southern Oregon and extreme northern California, forming a strip about 200 miles long and rarely extending more than 40 miles inland.

…it is one of the handsomest of our native trees, feathery – almost lacy – in appearance, with slender limbs slanting sharply upward to form a pointed crown.  It is so distinct in appearance that its identification will be easy for the inquiring student.  The foliage grows in flat sprays that neither turns stiffly on their axes as in Incense Cedar, nor hang fringe-like as in the Western Red Cedar, but lie in a horizontal plane, drooping softly at the tips.

Under forest conditions Port Orford Cedar, in mature stands, grows from 125 to 200 feet high and from 4 to 6 feet in diameter.  Trees 2 feet in diameter are about 200 years old.  Larger trees, up to 8 or 9 feet in diameter, are reported, and are probably 500 or 600 years old.

Lawson Cypress; Port Orford Cedar.

Chamæcyparis lawsoniana  (Murr.) Parlatore.

It is the largest tree of its genus and also the largest representative of its tribe (Cupressineæ) in North America.  Height, from 125 to 180 feet, with a diameter of from 3 ½ to 6 feet.  Trees 8 or more feet in diameter and nearly 200 feet high sometimes occur, bar now rare.

It is rather hard and firm wood, works as easily as the choicest pine, and is very durable, without protection, under all sorts of exposure.  In spite of its commercial excellence, the supply is so limited that it can hardly last long or find use outside of a restricted region.  Owing to the large clear sizes obtainable, it furnishes the best of saw-timber and is a forest tree of the first importance.


Port Orford cedar is the largest member of the Cypress family (Zobel and others 1985) Fossil records in western North America date back 50 million years and indicate that it was once widespread (Edwards 1983).  Currently, Port Orford cedar is found from coastal central Oregon to Northwest California (Atzet and Wheeler 1984).

Socio-Cultural Context

Port Orford cedar plays a significant role in the religious and medicinal live of the Karuk and Hupa indigenous people of Northwestern California.

The wood of the Port Orford cedar tree was used for two of the most essential aspects of everyday life: housing the family and spiritual purification for religious training.

Every part of the Port Orford cedar tree is utilized.  The buds are used to heal sore lungs, toothaches, and sore throats.  The leaves are used to heal coughs.  The bark and twigs are used to heal kidney problems.  Some regalia items used in religious ceremonies and dances are made of the wood.  Other religious regalia items such as various feathers and hides are stored in the trunks constructed from the wood of Port Orford cedar because the wood’s smell repels insects.

Because of its resistance to decay, Port Orford cedar snags and logs are long-lived components of wildlife habitat (Jimerson 1989).  Port Orford cedar logs also provide in-stream structure as well as organic input to streams containing anadromous fish.

POC Root Disease

During the 1950s the root fungus Phytophthora lateralis was introduced into the United States.  This fatal root disease has spread throughout much of the range of Port Orford cedar (Roth and others 1987).

General Description.   Port Orford white-cedar, also known as Oregon whote-cedar and Lawson cypress, is a large tree, 140 to 180 ft. in height and 4 to 6 ft. in diameter (max. 225 by 16 ft.), restricted to the coastal forests of southwestern Oregon and northern California.  The boles of large trees are sometimes buttressed and commonly clear for 150 ft. or more of their length.

Growth continues at a moderate rate and the trees reach maturity in about 300 to 350 years.  The largest trees are often 500 or more years of age.

Port Orford Cedar

The handsome yellow boards work up into furniture and interior finish of high quality.  Fore boat-building this is a first-class wood in decking, railing, and interior paneling.  It makes a fine wood for pattern blocks.  Because it is both a very light and very stiff wood (one of the rarest of combinations), and wears smoother, not rougher, with use, it was from prehistoric times the favorite material for the making of those paddles by which the Indians of the Northwest coast propelled their famous canoes of Western Red Cedar, as the Haidas, Tlingits, and Tsimshians pursued the sea otter, the sea lion, and the seal, or carried war to the very gates of Old Sitka in the days of the cruel Russian promyshlenniks.  From its trunks they also cut their ceremonial masks, highly colored and often inlaid with copper and abalone shell to represent teeth that could be made to snap and eyes that could be made to roll – to the mingled terror and delight of beholders.

Port Orford Cedar  Chamæcyparis Lawsoniana  (Murray) Parlatore

Other Names:  White or Oregon Cedar.  Lawson Cypress.  Ginger Pine

Shining and gracious in youth, gigantic and glorious in age, possessed of a fragrant wood of great beauty and scores of the most valuable uses, the Port Orford Cedar has but one defect with which it can be reproached: there isn’t – and never has been – enough of it!

Even under aboriginal conditions it was not exactly a plentiful tree, confined as it always was to a rather small range, from Coos Bay, on the Oregon Coast, south to the rugged Siskiyou Mountains of northern California, with a few stations around the head of the Sacramento River.  Even then it was by no means continuous over that range, occurring only in a spotty way.  Yet sometimes the virgin growth was very dense, and the trees, towering up to 175 or even 200 feet in height, with 150 feet of the trunk clear of branches, produced sometimes as much as 100,000 board feet of high-grade lumber to the acre.  Estimates place the total stand of the original growth at 4,000,000,000 board feet, which sounds like a lot until we compare it with the existing stands of other lumber trees.  The Western Yellow Pine, for instance is, even today, 45 times as abundant as the entire aboriginal stand of Port Orford Cedar.

But from the first discovery of the big stands of this timber in 1855, man and fire have assaulted it relentlessly.  A disastrous fire in the Coos Bay region at an early date wiped out a vast but undetermined amount.  Next, sawmills were at work, and schooners were anchoring off the rocky, harborless coast, to be loaded with Cedar logs carried by a high line from the cliffs to the decks.

The demand for Port Orford Cedar, as soon as it became known in eastern and foreign markets, grew swiftly and remained steady.  For it is scarcely excelled in the manufacture of venetian-blind slats, mine timbers, railway ties, millwork.  Its ginger-like odor is reputed to be repellent to moths, so that it has gone into the making of clothes chests and presses.  Because it is resistant to acids, it has been used for storage battery separators.  Latterly it has been in demand for plywood for aircraft construction and for veneer generally.  From the first it was valued in boat building; Sir Thomas Lipton ordered all his cup-challenger yachts built of Port Orford Cedar.

The wood is light in color – elegantly so – and takes well both a high polish and stains and paints.  For this reason it has become a cabinet wood, which can be finished in imitation of Mahogany, Oak, and other precious woods.  In its own right it early began to enjoy a reputation as a casket wood, not so much in its native land as in far-off Cathay and Nippon.  Its lightness, satiny texture when finished, its pungent odor compared by some to ginger, by some to roses, and the fact that it ranks, in contact with the soil, with the most durable of all woods, singles this Cedar out for a casket wood, and when we reflect that – according at least to a solemn tradition among small boys – a Celestial dies every time you draw a breath, one can see that the Oriental market for Port Orford Cedar would be high.  Sometimes one wonders if there is not almost as much of it underground in Asia as there is above ground here.

For the mills have eaten and eaten into the limited supply, spurred on by a rising market, until today the stumpage price of this tree exceeds that of every other wood in Oregon, our greatest lumber state.  Oregon coast towns such as Coquille, Marshfield, North Bend, Bandon, Parkersburg, and Port Orford itself, became for a time at least booming lumber towns, which also specialized in the building of all-Cedar ships.

Some of the above settlements have now become ghost-towns or nearly so, for they cut themselves out of all reason for existence by laying waste the Cedar without thought to the future.  Others have prospered as thy diversified their interest.  For Bandon, once known as the prettiest town in Oregon, a special fate was reserved.  It was founded by Lord George Bennet, an Irish peer, who made things more homelike, in the eighteen-seventies of the last century, by naturalizing the Irish furze or gorse, and as the majestic stands of Cedar were cleared away, it took hold in fine style on the logged-over lands, and was much admired, in spite of its thorns, for its golden pea-like flowers.  By 1936 Bandon was a pretty beach resort at the moth of the Coquille River surrounded by a sea of gorse, and on the hot dry night of September 26 much of the population was at the motion-picture theater seeing a film prophetically titled Thirty-Six Hours To Live.  Suddenly on the edge of town there was a flash of flame like an explosion.  The tinder-dry gorse caught fire for miles around in a matter of a few moments, and a sea of flames thirty feet high rolled toward the town.  Fireproof buildings burned like berry crates.  The loss of live and homes was so appalling that one scarcely cares to mention what had happened to the precious resource of the Port Orford Cedar.

The best way to see this tree of almost legendary fame is to follow U. S. Highway 101 between Reedsport and Gold Beach, Oregon, where the Pacific comes rolling in with heavy thundering surges, pushing foam castles up the black sand of the beaches, shooting up in geysers against the isolated stack rocks, and sending its cold briny breath deep into the forest.  Grand Firs, mighty Douglas Firs, Sitka Spruce, and waving Hemlocks march down from the Coast Ranges to the steep-pitched meadows – brief carpets of sunlight and flowering that end at the ocean cliffs.  And here, along the roadsides and on the steep wooded hills, rises a tree that you may take at first for Western Red Cedar, so alike are the two in their flat sprays of foliage.  But Western Red or Canoe Cedar (Arbor-vitae to the garden-minded) has the foliage shining yellow-green on the upper surface, dull green below.  Port Orford Cedar, which is notably finer, thinner, and in every way more ferny of frond, is a dull blue-green above and often flecked with a frosty whiteness below.  In young trees, or trees grown in the open, the limber, zigzag branches clothe the specimen to the base.  But the forest monarch, which may have lived 600 years, will have an awesomely long straight trunk covered with a soft, fibrous, fluted bark, and a very narrow crown of branches which droop with a grand but sorrowful gesture.

By exploring in your car up many roads – the more unpromising the better – you may find at last some limited grove of ancients, whose lonely isolation tells the story of their vanished monarchy.  And you will want to cut a twig just to smell that spicy odor, one of the strongest and most lingering given out by any commercial wood – the odor that, in the old sailing schooners that bore the fresh-cut Cedar across the Pacific, grew and grew upon the sailors till they were almost mad with it.