Giant arborvitae, also known as Western red cedar, is Thuja plicata, an evergreen conifer in the cypress family Cupressaceae. It is native to the Pacific Northwest in the United States as well as Canada’s British Columbia.

This North American tree really is a giant, able to reach 180 to 200 feet in height, though in cultivate it is seen more often at 50 to 70 feet in height with a spread of 15 to 25 feet. The form is grand and imposing, a soaring pyramid with strongly horizontal branches. The rich, deep green foliage is beautiful and held in flat sprays with scale-like leaves. And the foliage is wonderfully aromatic with a scent reminiscent of pineapple when crushed. The delicate needles cast a dense shade beneath the tree. And though there are flowers, they are insignificant as are the small, half-inch cones which are incongruous for such a massive tree.
Giant arborvitaes are long-lived and commonly exceed a thousand years, with the oldest verified being 1,460 years. That definitely qualifies it as a Heritage tree of the first order. And for a wild-life friendly garden it is also a must-have since it provides excellent shelter for birds and small mammals.

It makes an impressive specimen tree that will easily dominate any garden but it also takes shearing well and can be grown as hedge or screen. And even though the species is obviously suited for larger properties there are scores of cultivars with varying size and form, some of which are suitable for smaller properties.

Its natural environment is along rivers and bogs so it takes wet ground well, but it can tolerate  some drought as well as acid or alkaline soil. It now grows across much of the US as well as southern Canada and is very popular in the UK on large estates. It also grows in temperate Australia and New Zealand. Giant arborvitae and its numerous cultivars may not always be found in the discount nurseries but can usually be found at the better tree nurseries.


Western red cedar

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