Sequoia vs. Red Cedar Tree: 12 Differences Between These Towering Giants

Written by Nikita Ross
Updated: November 4, 2023
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The West Coast is known for its majestic trees, towering over the peaceful forests like gentle giants from the past. Walking amidst these trees is an incredible experience that everyone should enjoy.

Despite their shared, overwhelming presence, these giant trees have unique features that set them apart from each other. While the sequoia and red cedar trees are similar at a glance, they have different classifications, uses, and features.

Before digging in, let’s clear up some confusion: people often mix up the giant sequoia vs. coast redwood. Despite the name, the coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) is the only true living member of the Sequoia genus and is the tree most frequently confused with a red cedar tree. For this comparison, we’ll be comparing the true sequoia (coast redwood) with the Western red cedar.

Let’s dig in!

Comparing Sequoia vs. Red Cedar Tree

SequoiaRed Cedar Tree
ClassificationKingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Gymnosperms
Division: Pinophyta
Class: Pinopsida
Order: Pinales
Family: Cupressaceae
Genus: Sequoia
Species: Sequoia sempervirens
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Gymnosperms
Division: Pinophyta
Class: Pinopsida
Order: Cupressales
Family: Cupressaceae
Genus: Thuja
Species:Thuja plicata
OriginOregon, California, British ColumbiaOregon, California, British Columbia, Montana, Idaho
Natural HabitatCoastal forestsCoastal forests, Mountainous forests
USDA Hardiness ZoneZones 7-10Zones 5-8
Conservation Status in the USEndangered, protectedHistorically used for building cultural significance
SizeHeight: 200 to 325 feet (60 to 99 m)Height: 150 to 230 feet (45 to 70 m)
ShapeEven, slender trunk; conical crownSlightly tapered trunk; ovaline crown
FoliageNeedle and awl-shapedFlat, scale-like sprays
WoodPest-resistant, burn-resistant softwoodDisease-resistant softwood
Cones0.8 – 1 inch (2 to 2.5 cm)0.4 -0.6 inch (1 to 1.5 cm)
UsesHistorically used for building due to fire-resistanceHistorically used for building; cultural significance
Elevation Limit (Distance Above Sea Level)Upper elevation limit: 3,018 feet (920 m)Lower elevation limit: 3 feet (1 m)Upper elevation limit: 7,510 feet (2,290 m)Lower elevation limit: Sea level to 3,600 feet (1,100 m) 

The Key Differences Between Sequoia vs. Red Cedar Tree

Thuja plicata

in the Pacific Northwest.

©ChrisStubbs / CC BY-SA 3.0 – License

While the sequoia and red cedar trees both grow in the Pacific Northwest and share similarities, they’re quite different from one another.

The sequoia (coast redwood) is larger, more burn resistant, and tends to be more rare in the Northern region and at higher elevations.

The Western red cedar tree is shorter (though still an astounding 150 feet tall at minimum), has a more tapered trunk, and a more ovaline crown that varies depending on the light exposure.

Let’s take a closer look at the overarching differences between these majestic trees.

Sequoia vs. Red Cedar Tree: Classification

While the sequoia and red cedar tree are both members of the family Cupressaceae, that’s where the relationship ends. 

Sequoia is the only surviving member of the Sequoia genus and the species sempervirens — a Latin term roughly translating to “evergreen.” The giant sequoia is in the genus Sequoiadendron but shares the subfamily Sequoioideae with the coast redwood. This contributes to the confusion, as the term “sequoia” is often used interchangeably. 

The red cedar tree is in the genus Thuja, which is a part of the cypress family. It is not a true cedar and is often confused with Juniperus virginiana, also known as the Eastern red cedar tree. It’s not a true cedar, either.

Sequoia vs. Red Cedar Tree: Distribution

Both the sequoia and red cedar trees are found in the Pacific Northwest, primarily in California and Oregon. They both extend North into British Columbia, Canada.

However, the sequoia has a smaller range than the red cedar tree. The red cedar tree extends further into British Columbia and fans East into parts of Idaho and Montana. You can even find this beauty in Glacier National Park.

Sequoia vs. Red Cedar Tree: Hardiness Zone

The sequoia performs better in warmer climates, thriving in USDA Zones 7-10. Meanwhile, the red cedar tree is more cold-hardy, thriving in USDA Zones Zones 5-8.

This overlap is highlighted by their distribution, with the sequoia becoming rarer as you travel North and the red cedar tree petering out as you travel South.

coast redwoods from below
Sequoia sempervirens

, also known as the coast redwood, is the only surviving member of the

Sequoia

genus.

©Greens and Blues/Shutterstock.com

Sequoia vs. Red Cedar Tree: Size and Shape

While it’s difficult to tell the difference from the ground, the sequoia ranges from 200 feet to a breathtaking 325 feet. Its crown is more conical, as you’d expect from an evergreen tree.

The red cedar tree ranges from 150 to 230 feet tall, with a more ovaline crown that’s reminiscent of a deciduous tree. The crown tends to distribute lower on the tree in spacious, well-lit areas and crowds near the top of the tree in denser forests.

Sequoia vs. Red Cedar Tree: Uses

The sequoia is endangered and protected. Its wood is some of the most expensive in the world due to its protected status, costing $1,597 per cubic meter—and that’s not to mention the ethics and legalities.

Traditionally, the sequoia was used for building among Indigenous tribes and early settlers due to its perceived fire resistance. Its soft wood is slow to kindle and burn. 

The Western red cedar tree has a rich history among Indigenous people. Known as the Tree of Life, you can find examples of this cultural significance in the famous Stanley Park Totem Poles in British Columbia. Indigenous people used the red cedar tree to build structures, furniture, boats, and more. 

The photo featured at the top of this post is ©


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About the Author

Nikita Ross is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering plants, gardening, and yard care. Nikita has been writing for over seven years and holds a Marketing diploma from NSCC, which she earned in 2010. A resident of Canada, Nikita enjoys reading in her library, epic beach naps, and waiting for her Coffea arabica plant to produce coffee beans (no luck yet).

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