Among the many exotic trees in Cambria is the magnificent Port Orford cedar located near the southeast corner of the Cambria Historical Museum property on Center Street near the “blue house”. Usually not found this far south, this tree is believed to have been planted by the Guthries around 1900.
In North America the Port Orford cedar (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana) was first discovered in its small natural range along the California/Oregon coast in 1851. The total range was only about 200 miles long north and south and about 50 miles deep, shared by both states, about 70 percent in Oregon. It has long been recognized for its characteristic beauty. Port Orford cedar also grows in Japan and Southeast Asia. The North American population probably floated across the Pacific many years ago. In 1854, seed was collected from Port Orford cedar near the Coos Bay area and taken to England for culturing as an ornamental. Many different cultivars of Port Orford cedar were developed and it became a very popular and widely used tree and shrub in landscaping in Europe and North America.
Port Orford cedar has been an extremely valuable commercial species, both for its landscaping use and as a finished wood product. It has been used for a wide variety of things from the Hawaiian Presidential Palace to Japanese Buddhist temples, California gold mine timbers and building construction. It was used for high quality boats. Sir Thomas Lipton used this wood for his Shamrock series of 100-foot racing sailboats, built as challengers for the Americas Cup just prior to World War I. When the world famous Rose Bowl in Pasadena was built, the architects specified Port Orford cedar stadium planks for its beauty, strength and durability. The Japanese highly prize the wood for use in their homes as it closely resembles their native hinoki cedar. Port Orford cedar is also an important species for traditional use to native Americans who inhabited the range of Port Orford cedar. It has been used in ceremonial houses and sweat lodges.
Port Orford cedar, also known as Port Orford white cedar, Oregon cedar and Lawson cypress, prefers a mild climate with plenty of rain (40-90 inches annually)! High humidity and misting from the Pacific Ocean are also factors in the healthy growth of this tree in its natural areas. The range has been extended by planting the original and its variations around much of the northern half of the world and in New Zealand.
These large attractive and very shade-tolerant trees grow to 125 to 180 feet in 500 years, with diameters of 3 ½ to 6 feet. A record tree, 219 feet tall with a diameter of 12 feet, standing in Siskiyou, Oregon may be 700 years old. So, the Cambria specimen is still just a baby.