Photos courtesy of Ken Ogletree
Zone 5 to 7
40 to 60 feet after 40 to 70 years; can reach 140 feet
80 to 100 feet; trunks up to 9 feet in diameter
Bold, dramatic statement in a park or large garden
Distinctive, flat-topped habit; bright or dark, bluish green needles in tufts; barrel-like, 4-inch cones
Cedrus libani has always been one of my favorite trees. Perhaps it’s this impressive tree’s countless human uses, its stately beauty, its historical prominence, its need for protection or the profound combination of all of these that has drawn me. Regardless, it is with humble appreciation that I take my place among a very long line of fellow admirers: Cedrus libani has adorned our landscapes and livelihoods, inspired our kings, prophets and poets, and withstood peril from our continuing overuse for literally thousands of years.
Commonly known as the Lebanon cedar or cedar of Lebanon, Cedrus libani is, first and foremost, a physically impressive tree. It is a coniferous evergreen with a strikingly expansive, horizontal canopy of dark bluish green. As a juvenile (its first 20 years or so), its crown begins in a classically conical, more vertical shape. As it grows larger, however, the crown reaches and rounds, becoming elegantly broad and tabular.
At its maturity, C. libani reaches heights upwards of 140 feet with trunk diameter of 8 feet or more. This tree’s physical grandeur is even more impressive considering the delicate nature of its reproduction; it produces seeds only by pollination and releases them only every second year, with cones maturing in late autumn. The tree grows quite slowly, taking several human generations to reach its supreme magnificence. Rest assured, it is well-worth the wait. Once you see a cedar of Lebanon in its full glory you can easily imagine why many kings, military conquerors, poets and others throughout the centuries were so inspired.
And inspired they were. The historical accounts of this impressive specimen are as stately as the tree itself. The fine quality of Lebanon cedar’s lumber, from its rich cedar color and fragrance to its trusted hardness and built-in insect repelling qualities, made it a coveted choice among civilizations throughout human history. For example, the tree was used by King Solomon in the 10th century B.C. to build the First Temple in Jerusalem. Jewish priests heeded Moses’s words in using its bark for treating leprosy and for circumcision. Sumerian groves were preserved and protected by deities, until Gilgamesh claimed need for the magnificent trees to complete the building of the city of Uruk, circa 2500 B.C. The timber was also prized and used for the building of ships by the Phoenicians and by the Egyptians for the resin in the mummification process. The prophet Isaiah used the tree as a metaphor about the pride of the world.
Veneration for Cedrus libani even inspired some of our earliest human accounts of forest conservation. Due to centuries of deforestation for shipbuilding, ceremonial purposes and other uses, the Roman emperor Hadrian ordered a decree on preserving the tree as early as the second century A.D. Many others followed in his footsteps. Even amid our consumptive appetites in the dawn of the industrial revolution, Britain’s Queen Victoria shared in these efforts, when in 1876, she financed the building of a wall in Lebanon to protect new Cedrus libani saplings from the area’s goat herding population.
And its place of grandeur continues today. Cedrus libani is, for example, the national emblem for the country of Lebanon, and a symbol of fortitude used by many of the region’s political parties and movements. In England, too, its place of prominence continues. A majestic Lebanon cedar stands in London’s historic Highgate Cemetery amid a circle of stately mausoleums.
But its need for steadfast protection continues as well. Very few groves of Cedrus libani exist today. On the bright side, there are many reforestation efforts now in progress; several in Lebanon and more prominently in Turkey. But more help is needed, even in our own back yards. The best thing that people in our time can do to help restore these trees for the next 1,000 years is to continue to spread the word, wonder and support.
Consider owning and nurturing your own Cedrus libani and consider supporting global efforts by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon (SPNL) and others. The generations of our next few millennia may, too, look back one day at the time and care we took to plant and care for this historical and well-loved tree – and choose it as a favorite of their own.
Owner, Broad River Maples