Calocedrus decurrens

Common name: incense-cedar

Scientific name: Calocedrus decurrens (Calo-false, cedrus-cedar)

Plant family: Cupressaceae[1]

Description: This evergreen tree is tall and large with a twisted “rumpled” appearance from the mature branches.[2] The bark is reddish-brown, furrowed and flaky.[2]  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.[2]  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.[2]

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.[2]

Historical and Contemporary Uses

Calocedrus decurrens has been and is still used by aboriginal peoples in the Pacific Northwest and coastal regions.[3]  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.[3]  Another medicinal use is to inhale the steam from the infused leaves to help treat a cold.[3]  The Incense-cedar tree has also been used to make baskets from the bark and brooms from the boughs and twigs.[3]



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”.[2] This prevents the wood from being a desirable timber species. The wood is, however, very soft and used to make pencils.[2] The branches with the yellow pollen cones in winter are often used to make wreaths.[2]

[1] Plants For a Future Database. 1996-2010.

[2] Jensen, Edward C. Trees to know in Oregon. Oregon State University. Corvallis, OR: 2005

[3] Pojar, Jim and Andy MacKinnon. Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast.  B.C. Ministry of Forests and Lone Pine Publishing: Aburn, 1994.

Photos: And