The Yellow Cedar

November 25, 2011 Shelley Nielsen ExplorationHardwood & SoftwoodShelley's Articles

A Communal Resident

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It’s a given that my mission, when on holidays, is to take tree and/or wood-related pictures for our newsletter…and what an opportunity Strathcona Park gave us. This past September, found us on our annual tenting holiday; just before the park closed its gates for the winter. We came prepared, both mentally and physically, for full-day hikes of 5-6 hours; weather permitting. And thus we made a 6-hour round trip trek to Bedwell Lake; bringing us into the sub-alpine; home to the yellow cedar tree.

Although comfortable at lower elevations especially in the mid or north coastal regions, the yellow cedar is most common at higher elevations.
As we walk along, I’m constantly asking what tree is this or that. Of course, I never remember and why should I? I have my handy-dandy walking reference………..better than an IPAD or smart phone; don’t have to worry Wi-Fi hot-spots!

strathcona park map bc map

So what to watch for………….
Resource books say the cones are your first clue. Look for small, round cones, with fleshy scales; foliage is rough and prickly. Words such a dropping, sorrowful and shaggy are often used to describe this graceful, slow-growing species. Yellow cedar often has a candelabra-like appearance, because the top leader dies, as do the side branches that take over. The bark is another give away. Mature bark is gray and stringy while the bark of Western red cedar trees has a reddish hue. Belonging to the cypress family, yellow cedar is not a true cedar. Called yellow cedar in Canada; in the US it is usually called Alaska cedar; both are misleading common names. Chamaecyparis is derived from the Greek word for the ground cypress, an Old World shrub; nootkatensis refers to Nootka Sound on the west side of Vancouver Island where it was first identified by botanists.

Aboriginal people along the coast used yellow-cedar extensively. They used the wood for paddles, masks, dishes, and bows and wove the bark to make clothing and blankets. Today, it is valued commercially because of its straight grain, yellow colour, and resistance to decay. It is used extensively for boat building and it offers a ‘green’ option as a durable, termite-resistant, natural alternative to pressure-treated lumber.

Yellow cedar’s attractive white-yellow colour, fine texture and workability make it an excellent choice for furniture, residential construction and restoration projects. Dense, tough and close-grained, it withstands impact well and does not splinter – ideal for benches, outdoor furniture and playground structures. Yellow cedar is harder and heavier than Western red cedar. Structural grades find use in bridges and specialty construction projects.

It is not uncommon to see 50-60 annual rings per inch. Its fine, even texture makes it a top choice for carvings and turnings. Its light buttery color is ideal for fine furniture. The wood finishes beautifully and turns a characteristic bright yellow when wet. Used outside in its natural state, yellow cedar turns an attractive silver grey color. Architects love the versatile look.

In Japan, yellow cedar is highly prized in exposed/untreated buildings such as shrines, or more recently as sill plates in house foundations. The Japanese building code standards specifically cite yellow cedar as allowable in uses where “high decay inhibition and high termite proof performance” are required. As a result of this natural resistance, the slow-growing and decay-resistant yellow cedar can be harvested from “fall down” from previous cutting programs.  After testing, Dr. J. Kenneth Grace of the University of Hawaii suggested their “results indicate that this naturally durable wood compares favorably in termite resistance to preservative-treated wood.”

For those of you who like stats, here a little something from Understanding Wood Technology: a Craftsman’s Guide to Wood Technology, R Bruce Hoadley, Taunton Press 2000.

Strength Properties at 12% moisture content of Longleaf Pine, Shortleaf Pine, Douglas-fir, Yellow Cedar and Western Red Cedar:

Compression

Tension

Sheer

Static Bending

Parallel to grain

Rt. Angle

Rt. Angle

Parallel

FSPL

MR

E

FSPL

MCS

FSPL

MTS

PSI

PSI

PSI

106 PSI

Longleaf Pine

6150

8220

950

470

1500

9300

14300

1.93

Shortleaf Pine

5090

7270

750

470

1390

7700

13100

1.76

Douglas-fir

5850

7430

870

340

1160

7800

12200

1.95

Western Red Cedar

4360

5020

610

220

860

5300

8000

1.04

Yellow Cedar

5210

6310

770

360

1130

7100

11100

1.42

When Longleaf Pine equals 100%
Longleaf Pine

100%

100%

100%

100%

100%

100%

100%

100%

Shortleaf Pine

83%

88%

79%

100%

93%

83%

92%

91%

Douglas-fir

95%

90%

92%

72%

77%

84%

85%

101%

Western Red Cedar

71%

61%

64%

47%

57%

57%

56%

54%

Yellow Cedar

85%

77%

81%

77%

75%

76%

78%

74%

Compression

Tension

Sheer

Static Bending

Parallel to grain

Rt. Angle

Rt. Angle

Parallel

FSPL

MR

E

FSPL

MCS

FSPL

MTS

PSI

PSI

PSI

106 PSI

Douglas-fir

5850

7430

870

340

1160

7800

12200

1.95

Western Red Cedar

4360

5020

610

220

860

5300

8000

1.04

Yellow Cedar

5210

6310

770

360

1130

7100

11100

1.42

When Douglas Fir equals 100%
Douglas-fir

100%

100%

100%

100%

100%

100%

100%

100%

Western Red Cedar

75%

68%

70%

65%

74%

68%

66%

53%

Yellow Cedar

89%

85%

89%

106%

97%

91%

91%

73%

NOTES:
FSPL – Fibre Stress at proportional limits
MCS – Maximum Crushing Strength
MTS – Maximum tensile strength
MSS – Maximum Sheer Strength
E – Modulus of elasticity

As the voice of BC’s interior forest industry, the Council of Forest Industries (COFI) offers opportunities for professional development, forest education programs and teaching resources.   Programs, based on regional geographic, demographic and historic differences, help educate the public, possibly tomorrow’s leaders, on the value and sustainability of BC’s forests and related industries.  They have compiled a quick forest fact sheet that I find remarkable.  Here are a few for reflection.

Many of BC’s forests are old:  62% are over 100 years old, 41% are over 140 years old and 14% over 250 years old.  The coastal forest region of BC covers some 16.5 million hectares.  This is one-quarter of the world’s coastal temperate rainforest.  As of December 2008, 14.26% or 13.5 million hectares, was the overall size of the protected areas system in the whole of the province of British Columbia (this includes national parks, and national park reserves, as well as provincial parks and protected areas).  BC has designated another 14 million hectares for special management; meaning wildlife habitat, recreation or scenic vistas.

BC’s parks system is the 2nd largest in Canada; only Canada’s national parks system is bigger.  Strathcona Park offers 122,500 hectares dedicated to the preservation of the undisturbed natural environment.  While the high mountain peaks and deep shaded valleys of Strathcona Park are dramatic, one is quick to forget this area was once an ancient seafloor with gentle ocean currents.  There is a history of rocks torn and folded by the extraordinary forces that move continents; of mountain ranges sculpted by the thick ice sheets which only vanished a few thousand years ago.

Trees confirm the wonder of evolution.  They suffer our interference.  They are proof of amazing survival mechanisms.  Because 94 percent of the forests of BC are located on public land, British Columbian’s can, quite legitimately, consider themselves citizen-owners of a grand forest estate with the ultimate responsibility of safeguarding its forests.  People come from around the world to visit, explore and enjoy BC’s clean, natural and unspoiled environment.  BC Parks are an important part of BC’s environmental legacy.  Protect our wonderful landscapes and wildlife.  Appreciate and understand the value of our resources.  BC Parks celebrated its 100th birthday on March 1st, 2011, marking the formation of Strathcona Provincial Park.  Did you?!

BC Parksexplorationphotossoftwoodsyellow cedar

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