The Cedars – Cedrus – Cedar of Lebanon Cedrus libani / Deodar, or Indian Cedar Cedrus deodara

Trees & Shrubs Cedrus (common name Cedar) is a genus of coniferous trees in the plant family Pinaceae.

Cedars share a very similar cone structure with the firs (Abies) and were traditionally thought to be most closely related to them, but molecular evidence supports a basal position in the family.

There are five taxa of Cedrus, assigned according to taxonomic opinion to between one and four different species:

  • Deodar or Deodar Cedar, C. deodara (syn. C. libani subsp. deodara). Western Himalaya. Leaves bright green to pale glaucous green, 25–60 mm; cones with slightly ridged scales.
  • Lebanon Cedar or Cedar of Lebanon C. libani. Cones with smooth scales; two (or up to four) subspecies:
    • Lebanon Cedar C. libani subsp. libani. Mountains of Lebanon, western Syria and south-central Turkey. Leaves dark green to glaucous blue-green, 10–25 mm.
    • Turkish Cedar C. libani subsp. stenocoma. Mountains of southwest Turkey. Leaves glaucous blue-green, 8–25 mm.
  • Cyprus Cedar C. brevifolia (syn. C. libani subsp. brevifolia, C. libani var. brevifolia). Mountains of Cyprus. Leaves glaucous blue-green, 8–20 mm.
  • Atlas Cedar C. atlantica (syn. C. libani subsp. atlantica). Atlas mountains in Morocco & Algeria. Leaves dark green to glaucous blue-green, 10–25 mm

Lebanon Cedar or Cedar of Lebanon C. libani

The Lebanon cedar is widely planted as an ornamental tree in parks and gardens.

Cedar-of-Lebanon-Cedrus-libani The Cedars - Cedrus - Cedar of Lebanon Cedrus libani / Deodar, or Indian Cedar Cedrus deodara
Cedar of Lebanon Cedrus libani

It is unknown when the first cedar of Lebanon was planted in Britain, but it dates at least to 1664, when it is mentioned in Sylva, or A Discourse of Forest-Trees and the Propagation of Timber. In Britain, cedars of Lebanon are known for their use in London’s Highgate Cemetery. However, the plant is known among arborists for its tendency to drop branches without warning, and the use of wire bracing is common to reduce risks of falling branches.

C. libani has gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. (Wikipedia)

Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani).

Cedar-of-Lebanon-Cedrus-libani-cone-detail The Cedars - Cedrus - Cedar of Lebanon Cedrus libani / Deodar, or Indian Cedar Cedrus deodara
Cedar of Lebanon Cedrus libani – cone detail

Made familiar, by name at least, from very early times by frequent references to it in the books of the Old Testament, it is rather strange that so hardy a tree was not one of the first of those introduced for ornament into Britain. It is true that local legends attaching to some old Cedars in this country credit them with having been planted in “the spacious times of great Elizabeth”—as the great Cedar at Whitton, Middlesex, blown down in 1779; but, on the other hand, we have the fact that no mention is made of the Cedar by John Evelyn in his “Sylva” (1664). This, it is true, is only negative evidence; but it is strong none the less, for it is not at all likely that so keen and pious an arboriculturist would have omitted mention of so noteworthy a tree had such been growing here when he wrote. There is reason to believe, however, that the still-existing Enfield Cedar was planted about the date of Evelyn’s publication by Dr. Uvedale, master of the Enfield Grammar School.

The researches of Sir J. D. Hooker, subsequent to his memorable expedition to Lebanon and Taurus in 1860, established the specific identity of the three Cedars known as the Mount Atlas Cedar, the Cedar of Lebanon, and the Deodar. Though the arboriculturist still treats them as distinct species, they are scientifically regarded as geographical forms of one species. For convenience we here adopt the arboriculturist’s view.

The Cedar varies greatly—no tree more so—in height and general outline, according to situation and environment, and though the stature of well-grown trees in this country may be correctly stated as from 50 to 80 feet, we are not without examples of 100 and 120 feet where the conditions have been specially favourable. There is one of 120 feet at Strathfieldsaye, and among the numerous fine Cedars at Goodwood there is the celebrated Great Cedar, 90 feet high, with a bole 25 feet in circumference, and a broad conical head whose base has a diameter of 130 feet. But the Cedar, as usually seen on lawns and in parks, has a low, rounded, or flattened top, the great spreading arms having grown more rapidly than the trunk. Thus grown, the huge bole has seldom any great length, throwing out these timber branches at from six to ten feet from the ground, and immediately afterwards the trunk is divided into several stems. From these the main branches take a curving direction, at first ascending, but the part furthest from the trunk becoming almost horizontal. It is chiefly at the extremity of the branches that the branchlets and leaves are produced.

The evergreen leaves last for three, four, or five years, and are of needle-shape, varying in length from a little less to a little more than an inch. They are produced in a similar manner to those of the Larch—in tufts that are arranged spirally round dwarf shoots, mostly on the upper side of the branchlets. The male flowers are to be found at the extremity of branchlets which, though six or seven years old, are very short, their development having been arrested. The solid, purple-brown cones are only three or four inches long, broad-topped, and with a diameter of about half the length; the scales thin and closely pressed together; they are at first greyish-green, tinged with pink. The development and maturity of these cones takes two or three seasons, and they remain on the tree for several years longer. The seeds are angular, with a wedge-shaped wing.

The trees do not produce cones until they are from twenty-five to thirty years old; but they may be a century old before producing either male or female flowers.

Trunk-of-Cedar-of-Lebanon-Cedrus-libani The Cedars - Cedrus - Cedar of Lebanon Cedrus libani / Deodar, or Indian Cedar Cedrus deodara
Trunk of Cedar of Lebanon Cedrus libani

The trunk is covered with thick, rough, deeply fissured bark. On the branches the bark is smooth, and peels off in thin flakes. The Cedar, in its native habitat, produces admirable timber, but that of trees grown in our own country is described by Loudon as “reddish-white, light and spongy, easily worked, but very apt to shrink and warp, and by no means durable.” For these reasons the tree is grown almost solely for ornament.

The name Cedar is supposed to be derived from the Arabic kedroum, or kèdre (power), and has reference to its majestic proportions and strong timber.

The Cedar varies greatly—no tree more so—in height and general outline, according to situation and environment, and though the stature of well-grown trees in this country may be correctly stated as from 50 to 80 feet, we are not without examples of 100 and 120 feet where the conditions have been specially favourable. There is one of 120 feet at Strathfieldsaye, and among the numerous fine Cedars at Goodwood there is the celebrated Great Cedar, 90 feet high, with a bole 25 feet in circumference, and a broad conical head whose base has a diameter of 130 feet. But the Cedar, as usually seen on lawns and in parks, has a low, rounded, or flattened top, the great spreading arms having grown more rapidly than the trunk. Thus grown, the huge bole has seldom any great length, throwing out these timber branches at from six to ten feet from the ground, and immediately afterwards the trunk is divided into several stems. From these the main branches take a curving direction, at first ascending, but the part furthest from the trunk becoming almost horizontal. It is chiefly at the extremity of the branches that the branchlets and leaves are produced.

The evergreen leaves last for three, four, or five years, and are of needle-shape, varying in length from a little less to a little more than an inch. They are produced in a similar manner to those of the Larch—in tufts that are arranged spirally round dwarf shoots, mostly on the upper side of the branchlets. The male flowers are to be found at the extremity of branchlets which, though six or seven years old, are very short, their development having been arrested. The solid, purple-brown cones are only three or four inches long, broad-topped, and with a diameter of about half the length; the scales thin and closely pressed together; they are at first greyish-green, tinged with pink. The development and maturity of these cones takes two or three seasons, and they remain on the tree for several years longer. The seeds are angular, with a wedge-shaped wing.

The trees do not produce cones until they are from twenty-five to thirty years old; but they may be a century old before producing either male or female flowers.

The trunk is covered with thick, rough, deeply fissured bark. On the branches the bark is smooth, and peels off in thin flakes. The Cedar, in its native habitat, produces admirable timber, but that of trees grown in our own country is described by Loudon as “reddish-white, light and spongy, easily worked, but very apt to shrink and warp, and by no means durable.” For these reasons the tree is grown almost solely for ornament.

The name Cedar is supposed to be derived from the Arabic kedroum, or kèdre (power), and has reference to its majestic proportions and strong timber.

Cedrus deodara deodar cedar, Himalayan cedar, or deodar

The botanical name, which is also the English common name, derives from the Sanskrit.

The Deodar, or Indian Cedar (Cedrus deodara).

Deodar-or-Indian-Cedar-Cedrus-deodara-cone-and-foliage-detail The Cedars - Cedrus - Cedar of Lebanon Cedrus libani / Deodar, or Indian Cedar Cedrus deodara
Deodar, or Indian Cedar Cedrus deodara – cone and foliage detail

Although, as we have indicated, the differences between the Cedar of Lebanon and the Cedar of Himalaya are not such as can be scientifically accepted as constituting specific distinctness, they are sufficient to at once strike the ordinary observer. In proportion to the height of the trunk, for example, the main branches are much shorter, the result being a more regular pyramidal outline, terminating in a light spire. The terminal shoots of the branches are longer, more slender, and quite pendulous. These differences, though really slight, transform the rather heavy majesty of the Cedar, as represented by C. libani, into one of graceful beauty. Although the experience of sixty years has sadly falsified the high hopes entertained as to the suitability of the Deodar for cultivation in this country as a timber tree, its value for ornamental purposes and in landscape gardening has not been impaired.

Trunk-of-Deodar-or-Indian-Cedar-Cedrus-deodara The Cedars - Cedrus - Cedar of Lebanon Cedrus libani / Deodar, or Indian Cedar Cedrus deodara
Trunk of Deodar, or Indian Cedar Cedrus deodara

The headquarters of the Deodar are in the mountains of north-west India, where it forms forests at various altitudes above 3500 feet. Its vertical distribution, indeed, extends to a height of 12,000 feet, but its principal habitat lies between 6000 and 10,000 feet. Deodar timber produced in its native forests is exceedingly durable, being compact and even grained, not liable to warp or split, and standing the test of being alternately wet and dry. Loudon states that when a building, which had been erected by the Emperor Akbar in the latter part of the sixteenth century, was pulled down between 1820 and 1825, the Deodar timber used in its construction was found to be so sound that it was again used in building a house for Rajah Shah. And Brandis tells of very much more ancient bridges in Srunagar, whose piers are of Deodar wood, and appear to be as yet unaffected by decay.

It is to the Hon. W. L. Melville that we are indebted for the introduction of the Deodar to Britain in 1831, and during the next ten years many young trees were raised here from seeds. Favourably impressed by the rapidity of growth of these seedlings, the government, fearing a coming shortage of Oak for naval purposes, imported and distributed large numbers of Deodar seeds, and high estimates were formed of the future value of these trees. But in framing these estimates one important factor was omitted—the uncertainty of the British climate, with its rapid changes, “everything by turns, and nothing long.” A score or two of years served to demonstrate that such conditions were opposed to the longevity and uniform development that produced sound timber on the Indian mountains; and to-day the Deodar is not mentioned among the trees that are to bring riches to the British timber grower. In spite of this failure, there are to be seen in many parts of these islands fine young Deodars of forty or fifty years, and from fifty to seventy feet in height.

Deodar-or-Indian-Cedar-Cedrus-deodara The Cedars - Cedrus - Cedar of Lebanon Cedrus libani / Deodar, or Indian Cedar Cedrus deodara
Deodar, or Indian Cedar Cedrus deodara

There is no necessity for repeating the particulars already given respecting the Cedar of Lebanon, and which apply to the Deodar with such modifications as are indicated in the first paragraph above. Specimens grown where they have sufficient space for spreading out their long arms, retain their branches to the base of the trunk, and if these are cut off they can reproduce them. Several nursery varieties—with golden (aurea), silvery (argentea), or more intense green (viridis) foliage than the type—have appeared as a result of European cultivation. (Edward Step)