Western Red Cedar – x̣páʔčíɬč
With its handsome, rusty, fibrous bark and towering framework, an old-growth Western Red Cedar, Thuja plicata , easily holds its own against the Coastal Redwoods and Giant Sequoias of California. This Pacific Northwest native conifer became a central thread to the fabric of Pacific Northwest cultures. From winter housing and fishing traps to baskets, clothing, and canoes, the Tree of life provided everyday essentials as well as medicine used for a plethora of maladies.
The Western Red Cedar’s prevalence in daily life is rooted in compounds it produces for its own defenses. One of these, thujaplicin , provides the tree with antifungal properties that ward off potentially harmful diseases. In turn, this compound makes the wood decay-resistant and durable. Though medicinal tinctures and teas made from foliage were historically used by many tribes of the Pacific Northwest, it is now known that potent neurotoxins are present, and homemade remedies are best left to knowledgeable elders and chemists.
The above video documents the efforts of North Kitsap cedar weavers and artisans as they endeavor to create the first cedar bark canoe sail to be used on the Pacific Northwest Coast in over 150 years while they talk about the historical, cultural, and personal importance of cedar and cedar fiber.