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Pac NW’s ‘trees of life’ are dying. Now we know why
Drought and climate change are wreaking havoc on an icon of Pacific Northwest forests.


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Their branches drop gracefully, then curve upward to their tips.

They’re conifers, yet they don’t have coarse, rough needles.

Instead, they have soft, folded, scale-like “leaves,” bright green when new, darker when old. Their trunks—covered in thin reddish-brown bark—can grow to nearly 20 feet in diameter, though they aren’t ramrod straight like a Douglas fir, but noticeably wider at their bottoms, where flowing buttress-like structures form.

They grow as understory trees for much of their lives, but they can also stretch to the forest overstory, reaching heights of up to 200 feet.

They’re a key part of Pacific Northwest ecosystems, though they rarely dominate the forest, often living alongside firs, hemlocks, alders and maples.

These trees are the Pacific Northwest’s iconic western redcedars (Thuja plicata).

To many indigenous peoples, who used the trees for houses, clothes, weapons, tools, medicines, art and canoes, they’re known as The Tree of Life.

They’ve been recorded to live for over 1,500 years.

But these trees are now dying.

For at least a decade, struggling and dead western redcedars have been reported throughout the Pacific Northwest.

But the cause and extent of the dieback (a condition in which a tree or plant begins to die from the tip of its leaves or roots inward) have long remained unknown.

Now we have the answers.

Read the full story at Columbia Insight