Incense Cedar (Calocedrus decurrens). Photo: Kelsey McCutcheon.

Incense-cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) growing near the Truckee River.  Photo: K. Fitzgerald.

Calocedrus decurrens
  • Tall (up to 187 feet), cone-shaped evergreen trees
  • “Needles” are flattened sprays of tiny scale-like leaves.
  • Bark: Red-brown, good-smelling, fibrous.
  • Cones: Male cones tiny and green, located on tips of branchlets. Female cones brown and duckbill-shaped, ½-1½”.
Record Observations
Species Description

Small numbers of beautiful Incense-cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) grow scattered along the banks from the upper reaches of the Truckee River down to around the Reno elevation. They are drought-tolerant but not tolerant of floods, so are generally found on higher banks set back from the water’s edge. Tall and long-lived, these trees can grow to 187 feet and live to be 500 years old (Tollefson, 2008). 

Look closely at a branch: what at first appear from to be needles are actually chains of tiny scale-like leaves. Tiny yellow/green male cones develop during early fall on young branch-tips, and release pollen during winter and early spring. Brown, duck-bill shaped female cones develop at the ends of last year’s growth, and are wind-pollinated (Tollefson, 2008).

Incense-cedar wood contains good-smelling chemicals with anti-fungal properties, making the rot-resistant wood useful for things like door frames, cedar chests, pencils, fence posts, shingles and railroad ties. The fibrous bark was used by some Native American tribes to make huts, and by settlers to make roofs for houses (Arno, 1973). The thick bark of mature trees also offers protection from light surface fires, and the tree’s spreading branches provide shelter for many species of animals and birds (Tollefson, 2008).

Additional images:

The bark of incense-cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) is flaky.

The bark of incense-cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) is flaky.

Incense-cedar with male (yellow) and female (brown) cones. January 2016.

Incense-cedar with male (yellow) and female (brown) cones. January 2016.


References & Links

Arno, S. F. (1973). Discovering Sierra Trees. Yosemite NP: Yosemite Association.

Burns, R. M., & Honkala, B. H. (1990). Silvics of North America (Agriculture Handbook 654 ed., Vol. 1. Conifers). Washington, DC: USDA, Forest Service.

Tollefson, Jennifer E. 2008. Calocedrus decurrens. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available:

Jebb, M. (2003). Plant Names. Glasnevin, Dublin: National Botanic Gardens.


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