Nootka Cypress: History, Growth Rate, Lifespan & Other Characteristics

The Nootka Cypress, also known as the Alaska Cedar or Yellow Cedar, is a species of coniferous tree native to the coastal regions of the Pacific Northwest. Its scientific name is Callitropsis nootkatensis, and it belongs to the Cupressaceae family.

The tree is named after the Nuu-chah-nulth people, also known as the Nootka, who are indigenous to the Pacific Northwest Coast of Canada. The Nuu-chah-nulth people have a rich history with the Nootka Cypress, as they used its wood to make tools, and other items. The Nootka Cypress has also been used by other indigenous groups in the region. Its wood is valued for its durability, resistance to decay, and its pleasant, yellow color. The tree has been used to make a variety of items, including canoes, paddles, masks, and other objects.

The Nootka Cypress has a wide distribution, all the way from from the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska to the Klamath Mountains in northern California. It typically grows in moist, coastal forests and is often found near streams or in other wet areas. The tree is adapted to the cool, wet climate of the Pacific Northwest and is able to withstand heavy snowfall and strong winds.

Characteristics of Nootka Cypress

  • Common names include: Nootka cypress, yellow cypress, Alaska cypress, Nootka cedar, yellow cedar, Alaska cedar, and Alaska yellow cedar.
  • Evergreen coniferous tree. Pyramidal or conical shape when young, becoming more irregular with age.
  • Native to: Pacific Northwest Coast from Alaska to Northern California
  • Lifespan: Can live for several hundred years
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 to 8
  • Growth rate: Exhibits a slow to moderate growth rate, particularly when compared to some other conifer species.
  • Height: Typically grows 30 to 45 feet (9 to 14 meters) tall, but can reach up to 90 feet (27 meters) in the wild
  • Width: 10 to 15 feet (3 to 4.5 meters)
  • Shape: Conical when young, becoming irregular and open-canopied with age
  • Bark: Thin, reddish-brown, peeling in long strips
  • Leaves: Scale-like, arranged in flattened sprays, blue-green to gray-green in color, releasing a foul odor when crushed
  • Cones: Small, round, green to brown, 0.2 to 0.4 inches (5 to 10 mm) in diameter, containing 4 to 6 scales
  • Seeds: Winged, light brown, 0.1 to 0.2 inches (2.5 to 5 mm) long
  • Root system: Shallow and spreading
  • Branches: Pendulous, upsweeping at the ends
  • Soil: Prefers moist, well-drained, acidic to neutral soils
  • Sun exposure: Full sun to partial shade
  • Salt tolerance: Moderate to high
  • Drought tolerance: Moderate
  • Disease resistance: Susceptible to root rot and canker diseases in poorly drained soils
  • Wildlife value: Provides food and shelter for various birds and small mammals

Nootka Cypress Cultivars

‘Aurea’Foliage is bright yellow
‘Chilworth Silver’Blue-green foliage with silvery undersides
‘Compacta’Dwarf variety with compact growth habit
‘Green Arrow’Narrow, columnar form with dark green foliage
‘Greenstead Magnifica’Compact form with dense foliage and a pyramidal shape
‘Kornik’Compact, upright growth with dark green foliage
‘Pendula’Strongly weeping form with branchlets hanging vertically
‘Pendula Nana’Dwarf weeping variety featuring dense, pendulous foliage
‘Pygmaea Argentea’Dwarf form with blue-green foliage and silvery tips
‘Sparkling Arrow’Columnar form with bright green foliage
‘Strict Weeping’Extremely narrow, foliage hanging down
‘Van Pelts Blue’Compact, globe-shaped form with blue-green foliage
‘Variegata’Foliage has white to creamy-white variegation
‘Wilma Goldcrest’Compact, conical form with golden-yellow foliage

How to use Nootka Cypress

  • It can be used as an ornamental tree in gardens, parks, and landscapes due to its unique weeping habit and attractive foliage.
  • Due to its slow growth rate and interesting shape, the Nootka Cypress is a popular choice for bonsai enthusiasts. It can be trained and pruned to create a miniature version of the tree.
  • The dense foliage and pyramidal shape of the Nootka Cypress make it excellent for hedges or screens in the landscape. It can be planted in a row to provide privacy, block wind, or define boundaries within a garden.
  • It provides food and shelter for various birds and small mammals. Planting this tree in your yard can attract wildlife and contribute to the local ecosystem.
  • The wood of the Nootka Cypress is durable, resistant to decay, and has a pleasant yellow color. It can be used for construction, furniture, and carving, making it a valuable resource for woodworking projects.

Pruning Nootka Cypress

The weeping Nootka Cypress can be pruned throughout the year, except in late summer to early fall. Pruning stimulates new growth, which is not ideal as the tree is going into the winter dormant season. It will respond best to aggressive pruning during the winter dormant season when the tree isn’t actively growing. A spring or summer pruning session may be required to remove broken or damaged branches that were missed during the winter pruning session.

The weeping Nootka Cypress should be pruned when the branches require shaping or when damaged branches need removing. Careful pruning is needed to prevent further damage. This Cypress respond well to pruning when the cuts are made to new growth instead of cutting older wood. Avoid cutting into the branch collar, or the point where the branch meets the main trunk and swells out.

Use the three-cut method on large branches that are damaged and require full removal. This method involves making a cut halfway through the branch about 18 inches from the branch collar on the bottom side. The second cut is made on the top of the branch about 1 inch on the outer side of the first cut until the branch falls. Remove the remaining portion of the branch with a third cut next to the branch collar.

What Shrubs and Trees Go Well With a Weeping Nootka?


  • Dwarf Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum): This tree provide a beautiful contrast to the weeping habit of the Nootka cypress.
  • Dwarf Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana’): This evergreen shrub offers a similar form to the weeping Nootka cypress and complements its texture and color.
  • Dwarf Mugo Pine (Pinus mugo ‘Mops’): With its compact, rounded form and dark green needles, dwarf mugo pine creates a striking contrast to the cascading branches of the weeping Nootka cypress.
  • Dwarf Alberta Spruce (Picea glauca ‘Conica’): This small, conical evergreen shrub adds structure and formality to the landscape, serving as an excellent backdrop for the weeping Nootka cypress.
  • Dwarf Rhododendron (Rhododendron spp.): These compact, flowering shrubs offer a burst of color and texture that complements the graceful form of the weeping Nootka cypress.
  • Japanese Holly (Ilex crenata): This evergreen shrub has a dense, rounded form and dark green foliage that complements the Weeping Nootka’s bluish-green needles.
  • Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia): This evergreen shrub has beautiful clusters of pink or white flowers in late spring and early summer, adding color and interest to your landscape.


  • Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum): Japanese maples create a striking contrast to the weeping Nootka cypress, especially in fall when the leaves turn vibrant shades of red, orange, and yellow.
  • Dogwood (Cornus florida): With its horizontal branching pattern and showy spring flowers, dogwood trees add seasonal color to the landscape, enhancing the beauty of the weeping Nootka cypress.
  • River Birch (Betula nigra): The graceful, pendulous branches of river birch trees complement the weeping habit of the Nootka cypress, while its attractive peeling bark adds texture and visual appeal to the landscape.
  • Japanese Flowering Cherry (Prunus serrulata): Known for their stunning spring blossoms, Japanese flowering cherry trees create a beautiful focal point in the garden and can pair well with the weeping Nootka cypress.
  • Japanese Snowbell (Styrax japonicus): With its graceful, weeping branches and fragrant spring flowers, Japanese snowbell trees add charm and elegance to the landscape, complementing the weeping form of the Nootka cypress.
  • Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana): This evergreen tree has a dense, pyramidal form that contrasts nicely with the Weeping Nootka’s weeping habit.
  • Japanese Pieris (Pieris japonica): This evergreen shrub features clusters of white or pink flowers in spring, followed by colorful new growth. The foliage provides a nice contrast to the Weeping Nootka’s needle-like leaves.