Cedrus libani A. Richard

Common names

Cedar of Lebanon


C. libanitica Trew (a pre-Linnean name)

Article sources


New Trees

A tree 80 to 120 ft high and 4 to 8 ft in diameter of trunk, pyramidal when young, ultimately flat and spreading at the top, and developing huge horizontal branches; young shoots usually furnished with a minute down. Leaves 34 to 114 in. long, needle-like, but thickest towards the end. Cones 3 to 5 in. long, 2 to 212 in. wide, barrel-shaped.

Native of the Near East, best known from its historic stands in the Lebanon, but attaining its maximum development in the Cilician Taurus, Turkey, where it forms forests at 4,000 to 7,000 ft; further west it occurs in scattered stands almost as far as the Aegean. Introduced in the seventeenth century, probably between 1670 and 1680, perhaps earlier. Irrespective of its sacred and historical associations, no tree ever introduced to our islands has added more to the charm of gardens than the cedar of Lebanon. Its thick, stately trunk and noble crown of wide-spreading, horizontal branches give to it an air of distinction no other tree at present can rival, although in course of time, perhaps, the Atlas cedar assumes a similar form. The largest specimen on Mount Lebanon is over 40 ft in girth of trunk.

As noted in previous editions, the finest tree recorded by Elwes and Henry grew at Pains Hill near Cobham and measured 115 to 120 ft high with a girth of 2612 ft. This tree no longer exists, but others of good size remain there. The following list of recent measurements includes trees notable in height, girth, or length of bole and some others of which the planting date is known: Petworth, Sussex, 132 × 1712 ft (1961); Fort Belvedere, Windsor. pl. 1760, 110 × 1812 ft (1964); Sherborne Castle, Dorset, 120 × 1934 ft (1963); Highclere, Hants, 122 × 25 ft (1955); Bowood, Wilts., 129 × 1812 ft (1957); Cobham Hall, Kent, 98 × 2012 ft (1965); Claremont, Esher, Surrey, 95 × 2014 ft (1965); Peper Harrow, Surrey, pl. 1735, 90 × 2412 ft (1961); The Whittern, Heref., pl. 1810, 80 × 2234 ft (1963); Dogmersfield Park, Hants, 126 × 1612 ft (1961); Wilton House, Wilts., 93 × 25 and 100 × 2312 ft (1961); Bayfordbury, Herts., pl. 1765, 90 × 2312 ft (1962); Powderham Castle, Devon, 92 × 2114 ft (1963); Whitfield House, Heref., 85 × 2214 ft (1963); Blenheim Palace, Oxon., 85 × 27 ft and 115 × 2314 ft (1965).

As will be seen from the above list, the cedar of Lebanon thrives best in the warmer parts of the country; it likes a deep, loamy soil. From London, where the climate suits it admirably, it is excluded by atmospheric pollution, to which it is very sensitive.

f. argentea (Carr.) Beissn. – Leaves of a very glaucous hue. Reported to be found wild in the Cilician stands.

Both in the Atlas and Lebanon cedars one occasionally sees forms that lose all or most of their leaves in winter. They are usually stiff in habit, short-leaved and slow-growing. It is questionable whether these characters are not merely due to inferior vigour.

var. brevifolia Hook. f. C. brevifolia (Hook, f.) Henry Cyprus Cedar. – This differs from the Lebanon cedar in the shorter leaves (14 to 12 in. long), and in the smaller cylindrical cones; first described in 1879; introduced to Kew two years later. The trees on the mountains of Cyprus average about 40 ft in height. In cultivation the following sizes have been recorded: National Pinetum, Bedgebury, pl. 1926, 44 × 234 ft (1967); Borde Hill, Sussex, 52 × 3 ft (1958); Wakehurst Place, Sussex, 47 × 212 and 44 × 334 ft (1964); Bicton, Devon, 43 × 334 ft (1964); Windsor Great Park, 39 × 134 ft (1964). For further information on the Cyprus cedar see the article by J. E. Garfitt in Quarterly Journal of Forestry, Vol. 60, July 1966.

The Turkish representatives of C. libani are said to be of more columnar habit than those found in the Lebanon, and trees raised from seed collected in the Cilician Taurus in 1903 have proved hardier at the Arnold Arboretum than the true cedar of Lebanon. Schwarz, whose views on the Mediterranean cedars are mentioned in the introductory note, treats the Turkish cedar as a subspecies, but Coode and Cullen remark that the botanical characters he used to distinguish this from subsp. libani are not well correlated and consider that the two taxa can hardly be maintained as distinct (Flora of Turkey, Vol. 1, pp. 71-2, 1965). See also the note and photographs by P. H. Davis in Journ. R.H.S., Vol. 74, p. 112, and figs. 39 and 40.

From the Supplement (Vol. V)

A fascinating and lengthy account of the cedar of Lebanon in ancient times will be found in: Russell Meiggs, Trees and Timber in the Ancient Mediterranean World (1983), Chapter 3. The author of this work is a classical historian who was for many years lecturer in Ancient History at the University of Oxford, and he devoted to its preparation some twenty years of research – the result being a contribution to dendrology of outstanding importance and originality. A well-researched account of the Lebanon cedar in cultivation by P. J. Jarvis will be found in Journ. R.H.S. Vol. 99 (1974), pp. 539-46.

specimens: Painshill, Surrey, 115-20 × 2612 ft in 1904, now 120 × 3212 ft at 2 ft (1981) (this tree was erroneously stated on page 560 no longer to exist); Cobham Park, Surrey, with a fine bole, 75 × 2034 ft (1981); Claremont, Esher, Surrey, 105 × 2112 ft, bole 50 ft (1979); Peper Harrow, Surrey, pl. 1735, 90 × 2434 ft (1971); Petworth House, Sussex, 135 × 19 ft (1983); Goodwood Park, Sussex, pl. 1760, 132 × 29 ft, bole 8 ft (1985) and another 118 × 2834 ft at 2 ft (1980); Cobham Hall, Kent, 98 × 2034 ft and, on the hill, 105 × 2514 ft at 1 ft (1976); Bayfordbury, Herts., pl. 1765, 90 × 24 ft (1973); Beechwood, Bucks., 98 × 2834 ft at 3 ft (1978); Stowe Park, Bucks., 102 × 2634 ft, a superb tree with a 20 ft bole (1981); Blenheim Palace, Oxon., by the Cascade, 95 × 2734 ft (1978); Rousham Park, Oxon., 138 × 1812 ft, bole 18 ft (1983); Dogmersfield Park, Hants, 120 × 1714 ft (1973); Highclere, Hants, by the Castle, 118 × 2434 ft at 3 ft and 117 × 2312 ft at 2 ft and, in the Park, pl. 1772, 115 × 2614 ft (1978); Bowood, Wilts., 135 × 1734 ft (1975) and another 124 × 2112 ft (1985); Wilton House, Wilts., 88 × 2814 ft and 82 × 25 ft (1971); Sherborne Castle, Dorset, 121 × 2014 ft (1978); Ranston House, Dorset, pl. c. 1680, 92 × 2134 ft, bole 33 ft (1978); Stanway, Glos., 115 × 2634 ft (1978); Eastnor Castle, Heref., on Drive, 129 × 2114 ft (1977); Hartrow Manor, Som., 56 × 3212 ft at 3 ft (1978); Biel, E. Lothian, pl. 1707, 85 × 2434 ft at 2 ft (1985).

var. brevifolia - specimens: National Pinetum, Bedgebury, Kent, pl. 1926, three trees, the largest in girth 56 × 412 ft (1978); Windsor Great Park, the largest of three 68 × 5 ft (1981); Wakehurst Place, Sussex, the largest of three 66 × 512 ft (1979); Borde Hill, Sussex, in Warren Wood, 74 × 412 ft (1978); Pitts Corner, Winchester, in the former Hillier nursery, 56 × 5 ft (1979); Bicton, Devon, 52 × 512 ft (1979); Gregynog, Powys, 48 × 512 ft (1979); Powis Castle, Powys, in West Park, 59 × 5 ft (1981).

In ancient times the Cyprus cedar had a wider range than it does today, when it is confined to the Cedar Valley in the western part of the Troodos mountains, between Stavros and the famous Kykko Monastery.

There are few cultivars of C. libani and none is of much importance. The following are available:

cv. 'Aurea'. – Foliage golden when young. Inferior to the golden form of the Atlas cedar, from which it differs in its green older leaves (silvery grey in the latter).

cv. 'Comte de Dijon'. – A slow-growing variant, ovoid in form when young, with slender more or less radially arranged needles. Raised by Messrs Barbier of Orléans about 1867 but apparently not put into commerce until 1908. An authentic plant in the National Botanic Garden, Glasnevin, Eire, was about 3 ft by 3 ft in 1938 but some 16 ft high and 13 ft wide by 1966 (Welch, Dwarf Conifers, p. 113 and ill. 38 (1966)).

† cv. 'Sargentii'. – A slow-growing bush; branches at first horizontal, later more or less pendulous. It is of sprawling habit if not trained up. Raised in the Arnold Arboretum, Massachusetts, and named in 1923.

From New Trees

Cedrus libani A. Rich.

Cedar of Lebanon

This species was described by Bean (B560, S155) and Krüssmann (K65), and Farjon (2001) recognised C. libani subsp. stenocoma.

Cedrus libani subsp. stenocoma (O. Schwarz) P.H. Davis

Subsp. stenocoma has a more conical habit than the type subspecies, and its leaves are grey-green, rather than dark green-glaucous. The morphology of subsp. stenocoma is intermediate between that of C. libani and C. atlantica, though these species can be difficult to separate. Coode & Cullen (1965) note that the habit of Turkish specimens of C. libani is different to that of plants in the rest of its range. Turkish trees are tall compared to typical specimens, that have a crown wider than it is tall. However, both subsp. stenocoma and the type subspecies occur in Turkey, and so this difference may be habitat-related. Coode & Cullen 1965, Farjon 1990. Distribution TURKEY: Cilician Taurus Mts. Habitat North-facing mountain slopes between 1300 and 3000 m asl, on well-drained calcareous soils. USDA Hardiness Zone 5. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration NT17, NT225, NT226. Cross-reference K66.

The story of the first introduction of Cedrus libani subsp. stenocoma is a classic tale of intelligent sourcing of material to fit a horticultural need. In the United States, nominate C. libani grows only as far north as Pennsylvania, and its presence was lacked in gardens further northeast. In 1902 C.S. Sargent commissioned the botanist Walter Siehe, who was resident in Turkey, to collect seed from the highest locations of the species in the Taurus Mountains. The resultant plants did indeed thrive when planted in the Arnold Arboretum, and elsewhere – and are still flourishing there today (Hay 1995). Instead of forming the familiar wide-branched shape expected of Cedars of Lebanon, trees of subsp. stenocoma have a narrow, almost conical shape, retained into maturity.

This taxon has been somewhat ignored in the British literature, being noted, if mentioned at all, only for its greater hardiness (Rushforth 1987a). It is this extra hardiness, however, that makes subsp. stenocoma so valuable to American horticulture, thriving as it does through much of the Midwest where subsp. libani fails. Dirr (1998) notes that it has withstood –31ºC; although needle-loss occurred, the trees regenerated. This suggests that it would also be useful in cold, northern parts of Europe.

The pollenbearing strobili of Cedrus libani subsp. stenocoma. The male cones of conifers are often ignored in favour of the attractions of the female cones. Image M. Gardner.



Other species in the genus