Calocedrus decurrens, or incense-cedar, has broad habitat requirements. Within its range from Oregon to Baja California, it is most often found in hot and dry sites with poor soils. However, the tallest individuals typically occur in “sunny, well-watered sites such as riparian areas in canyons or near subalpine lakeshores“.
In addition to a range of soil types (occurring in everything from ultramafic to limestone-derived soils) and water regimes, incense-cedar is also tolerant of a wide range of temperatures and snow cover; it is rated as cold-hardy to between -17.7°C and -12.2°C (USDA hardiness zone 7). The wide habitat envelope does not translate into ecological dominance; it is extremely rare to find forests where Calocedrus decurrens is the sole or dominant species. Most often, it is found:
In mixed conifer forest with Pinus jeffreyi, Pinus ponderosa, Pinus lambertiana, Pinus monticola, Abies concolor, Abies grandis, Abies magnifica, and Pseudotsuga menziesii, locally with Sequoiadendron giganteum, Chamaecyparis lawsoniana, Tsuga heterophylla or Thuja plicata, and in drier southern sites with Pinus coulteri and Pseudotsuga macrocarpa.
(see Calocedrus decurrens via the IUCN Red List)
That noted, this photograph was taken near one of the few sites where near-pure stands are known, Red Buttes Wilderness‘s Cedar Basin.
For those curious about the lighting in today’s photograph (and the close-up crop of the image), this was taken on a smoke-filled day in late August of 2017. The nearest wildfires were within miles as the crow flies; in fact, we had to use an alternative route to access this area due to road closures. Fortunately, we had the experienced author and naturalist Michael Kauffmann as our guide.