Scientific name: Calocedrus decurrens (Calo-false, cedrus-cedar)
Plant family: Cupressaceae
Description: This evergreen tree is tall and large with a twisted “rumpled” appearance from the mature branches. The bark is reddish-brown, furrowed and flaky. Leaves of this tree are scale-like needles that lay flat against the twigs and are said to look like a long stemmed wine glass. Seed cones are about 1 inch long and when open, resemble a fleur-de-lis or duck bill. Pollen cones are at the branch tips and are a yellowish color that comes out in mid-winter.
Habitat and Range: Calocedrus decurrens likes dry regions with well drained soils. It is often found from California to Oregon, south of Santiam pass in OR and in drought forests in CA.
Historical and Contemporary Uses: Calocedrus decurrens has been and is still used by aboriginal peoples in the Pacific Northwest and coastal regions. There are two common medicinal uses of incense cedar; one is making a decoction (an extraction from boiling) of the leaves to help heal stomach problems. Another medicinal use is to inhale the steam from the infused leaves to help treat a cold. The Incense-cedar tree has also been used to make baskets from the bark and brooms from the boughs and twigs.
The wood of Calocedrus decurrens is very aromatic, and resists decay and insects. Unfortunately, it is prone to being infected by a white fungus called “pencil rot”. This prevents the wood from being a desirable timber species. The wood is, however, very soft and used to make pencils. The branches with the yellow pollen cones in winter are often used to make wreaths.