Incense Cedar: Why Not the Pencil Tree?

Wine glasses, fleur de lis, pencils and casket liners?

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Shaggy bark of the Incense Cedar

From recent posts it might be concluded that many trees, including some of the cedars, have quite a few monikers. So why isn’t Pencil tree an alternative for the Incense Cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) ? Apparently there is something called a Pencil Tree, but it isn’t a plant that grows in the wild but instead is a slim fake Christmas tree. At least one book (North American Trees, Preston and Braham, 2002) does refer to this species as the Pencil-Cedar, but I didn’t not come across this designation elsewhere.

The Incense Cedar is native to the continent, but is only found in Oregon, California, Nevada, and Baja California. The eastern reach into Nevada may be because this tree, unlike others in the false-cypress family, doesn’t mind drier conditions. It isn’t normally found in a stand of the same species, but usually is the local specimen amongst others. Although its native habitat is limited, apparently it can be grown through much of the United States and is used as an ornamental.

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Leaves looking a bit like long-stemmed wine glasses.

Descriptions of the conifer’s leaves and cones are the most poetic I’ve yet encountered. The leaves are described as resembling long-stemmed wine glasses The opened seed cones are likened to both duck bills and the fleur-de-lis. The bark, cinnamon-colored, holds interest, too, and resembles that of the Paperbark Maple but in larger shreds. For a look at some older trees around the Portland, OR area, check out this blog: http://amycampion.com/incense-cedar-not-just-another-evergreen-tree. There is also a photo of the opened cone.

The largest example of this tree is known as the Devil’s Canyon Colossus and grows in California. Other large trees can be found in Oregon. Conifers.org says there is rumor of a tree that is over 930 years old, but without supporting evidence

Like most other conifers, this one had many uses for Native Americans, most similar to those of other evergreens. Breathing the steam from the leaves was used for upper respiratory ailments and a tea from the leaves could be brewed for stomach upsets. Baskets and brooms were made from the bark and boughs. Some Californian Native Americans may also have used the leaves as a flavoring agent. 

In the 1860s  and 70s the species’ lumber was used extensively for goldmine flumes. Current uses include closet liners, shingles, garden benches, boardwalks. On a macabre note, the wood has also been used to line both caskets and graves. The principle current use of the lumber, though, seems to be pencils.

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Pencils.com, a blog devoted to pencils, identifies Incense Cedar as the best wood for creating pencils. Other writers concur, but this wasn’t always the case. Pencils were first mass produced in Germany in 1662 and the first pencils in the New World were made in Massachusetts in1812. The first American factory opened in New York City in 1861. At first these writing implements were made of Eastern Red Cedar, but in the early 1900s, the Incense Cedar was found to have superior wood for their manufacture as it didn’t splinter easily and saw smooth.

There are plenty of odd facts about pencils, including that Napoleon wanted them as much as world domination. At one time bread crumbs were used as erasers. (Scum-X anyone?) Pencils were originally used on space flights but later banned. Many other sites include tidbits and other useless but interesting information about pencils and their history.

Although anti-dumping and other government sanctions have been applied to imported pencils from China, today the US may make fewer than 14%  of the world’s pencils. Incense cedar pencils may still be purchased here, although not all those sold are manufactured in America.

To find the (B114) Incense Cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) in the Fort Collins City Park Arboretum, you could park across from the second house from the NW corner of Oak and Jackson and walk directly into the park. The tree is located along City Park Drive, not far from the Giant Sequoia. There is a doggie bag station directly under the tree. To find the tag, walk into the branches. It is fun to see the tangled pattern they create when you look upwards as well. 

This particular specimen was planted in 1996 when its diameter was 3.5″.

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Incense Cedar with the doggie bag station visible under and behind it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Trouble with Trees in General and Cedars in Particular

Trees in genus Cedras are often called the true cedars.

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Through the branches of an Eastern Red Cedar

So far I’ve covered over forty trees and I’m up to the cedars. I’d counted five tagged on the self-guided tour, but it turns out that I didn’t look closely enough as one of those trees with the common name of CEDAR is actually a juniper. The other four belong to three different genus/families even though they all share the common name of cedar. Misnaming trees from the Latin to the vernacular makes tree identification difficult! Another problem is the multiple spellings for the same tree. Red Cedar or Redcedar?

Six of the types of conifers discussed so far have been in order Pinales, family Pinaceae. Arborvitae, the Giant Sequoia, and Junipers belong to order Cupressales, family Cupressaceae. All of these belong to the subclass Pinidae, commonly referred to as Conifers.  (From The Gymnosperm Database.)

The Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) was used in ways similar to the other junipers discussed previously.  According to the USDA map, this is one of the most widely distributed native conifers on the continent as the usual eastern block extends to Colorado and also includes Oregon. Interestingly, Eastern red cedar is not included in Flora of Colorado (Ackerfield, 2015). Red cedar is said to have very durable wood and was used to make lances, bows, and multipurpose mats.

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Lumber from Redcedar used as flooring
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Bark of the Eastern red cedar

The wood has been valued for its rot-resistant properties. Today the wood is often used for its aromatic properties. It is used to line closest and cedar chests and was once used to make pencils. Occasionally in the south it is still used as a Christmas tree.

The US champion Eastern Redcedar is a tree in Georgia that has overall points of 310, but is only 57 feet tall. The champion Eastern Redcedar in Colorado is in Denver but doesn’t even score half the points of the national champion. It is, though, taller at a height of sixty feet. Sources differ on the age of these trees, with some saying 900 years and others 500.

To find A77 Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), drive to the pottery studio, which is on the corner of Oak and S. Bryan. You can see the trees in front of the building. 

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Eastern Red Cedars in front of the Pottery Studio

 

The Himalayan Cedar (Cedras deodara Karl Fuchs) belongs to the genus Cedras. The trees in this group are often referred to as true cedars. Cedras Deodara is native to India and Pakistan. The USDA map indicates they have only been introduced in three southern states.*

Even though this is a true cedar, compared to the other trees listed as cedars, it is somewhat deceiving as the leaves (needles) might look to the casual observer as belonging to a spruce or pine.

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Himalayan Cedar needles

The bark looks different from that of the Eastern Red Cedar.

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Bark of the Himalayan Cedar

According to the Arbor Day Foundation, the name of the tree in Sanskrit means “Timber of the Gods,” and it was introduced into Europe and America in the early 1800s. The site also mentions that an oil the tree produces has insect repelling qualities. Virginia Tech Dendrology states the tree is planted as an ornamental in zones 7 and 8. It mentions  it is often mistaken for European Larch and Atlas Cedar. The cultivar Karl Fuchs was developed in Germany in the 1970s.

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The Himalayan Cedar (Cedras deodara Karl Fuchs)

Tree  C143 can be found along Jackson Avenue, about midway between W. Olive and W. Magnolia Street. As can be seen from the photo above, it is a little way into the park and not directly along the street.

Next post: Alaskan and Incense Cedar

 

*So far I have not been able to pin down the meaning of “introduced” vs “native” as there appear to be trees that are planted in areas other than where they are native or have been introduced. (Possibly introduced means once the seeds have been planted, the trees are able to spread without the help of humans? This is also often referred to as an invasive species, but not all introduced species are problems as they do not take over or compete with native species. Other non-native trees are referred to as exotics and possibly they are single specimens which thrive but have no way to reproduce and spread? This is a hypothesis on my part and in no way verified.