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Tom Christian (2020)
Christian, T. (2020), 'Cedrus brevifolia' from the website Trees and Shrubs Online (treesandshrubsonline.
Trees typically (10–)15–20 m tall (occasionally taller) 1–1.2 m dbh. Usually monopodial, but often branched from very low down especially in cultivation. Crown narrowly conical when young, but open and flat-topped in old trees. Bark smooth on young trees, eventually breaking into small grey, purple-grey, or off-white plates, and detaching in small plates or flakes, the new growth between the fissures cinnamon-brown and the freshly exposed bark beneath detached scales initially dark brown, soon becoming grey. Branchlets pale green-brown in their first year, rose-brown in their second year, later grey and flaking, initiatlly with short pale brown pubescence. Pulvini small, pale orange, prominent on terminal branchlets (‘long shoots’). Long shoots slender, often nodding or pendulous on young trees, older branchlets (‘short shoots’) stout, densely set with many shoots and short needles. Young branchlets and their foliage are often tinted bronze, especially on younger trees. Needles (0.4–)0.5–1.6(–2) cm long, longest at the base of long shoots, 1–1.5 mm thick, parallel-sided, often conspicuoulsy incurved with short-acute apices, shiny pale green to greyish-green on younger trees, typically greyer in older trees, occasionally glaucous-green in trees of all ages. Female cones 5–12 x 3–6 cm, cylindrical-ovoid, green at first, maturing to pale green with a purplish hue, ripening to pale brown, with rounded or partially flattened apices. (Farjon 1990; Debreczy & Rácz 2011; Christou & Gardner 2019).
Distribution Cyprus Endemic to a small area of the western Troödos Mountains.
Habitat In mixed or pure stands over a relatively narrow altitudinal range (1000–1400 m), the pure stands generally restricted to mountain tops, but lower down (and most frequently) associated with Pinus brutia, Platanus orientalis, Quercus alnifolia and Arbutus spp.
USDA Hardiness Zone 6-8
RHS Hardiness Rating H5
Conservation status Vulnerable (VU)
Taxonomic note Whether or not the Cyprus Cedar is deserving of species rank has been a point of contention for some time. Debreczy & Rácz (2011) maintained it as a separate species, while Farjon (2017) reduces it to a variety of C. libani, suggesting that long-leaved forms of putative C. brevifolia occur in wild populations on Cyprus, while short-leaved trees fitting C. brevifolia’s overall description may be found in Turkey. He concludes ‘if short leaves are the only distinctive character, var. brevifolia could be more widespread or…not taxonomically distinct’ (Farjon 2017). Further, Farjon (2017) ceases to recognise C. libani subsp. stenocoma, which he previously considered distinct (Farjon 1990), reducing it to an ecotype in 2017. While it is a conservative view, we have opted to continue to recognise C. libani subsp. stenocoma, and to maintain C. brevifolia at species rank following Debreczy & Rácz (2011), and justify doing so in each case based on their horticultural characteristics, taken together with the few morphological traits which do aid distinction.
The Cyprus Cedar is undeserving of the relative obscurity surrounding it. It was the last of the Cedars to be described to science and the last to be introduced to cultivation; it has yielded the fewest cultivars of the four, and it remains by far the least commonly grown across our area. It cannot be denied that this is a lost opportunity. Cedrus brevifolia is a tree of great beauty, smaller in stature than any of its cousins and, one would think therefore, of at least moderate potential in more restricted spaces than the grand landscapes frequented by the other three species. Like them it can thrive in areas with hot, dry summers, and once established it is perfectly hardy.
Aesthetically the Cyprus Cedar is probably best considered a sort of miniature Cedar of Lebanon, the largest known in Cyprus when Elwes & Henry penned their seminal tome was only 18 m tall and 1.1 m dbh (Elwes & Henry 1906), but there is a 2017 report of a 30 m (1 m dbh) tree growing near Virginia Water in Windsor Great Park, UK (accession 1999–2337) (monumentaltrees.com) although the identity of this individual hasn’t been confirmed. Perhaps the commonalities between the two species go some way to explaining why the Cyprus Cedar has been so long overlooked. Elwes provides an enthusiastic account of the species but then barely stops short of declaring its irrelevance in his penultimate paragraph: ‘A photograph of this tree [a wild example in Cyprus] is so precisely like a Lebanon cedar standing on my own lawn…that I need not reproduce it’ (Elwes & Henry 1906).
Described in 1879 when Sir Samuel Baker sent material to Kew, but possibly not grown in Britain until 1881 when a consignment of seed followed, the Cyprus Cedar did not make the same energetic start that horticulturists had come to expect from its cousins. Elwes continues: ‘two, now growing in the cedar collection at Kew, have attained only 6 feet [c. 2 m] in height [in c. 20 years], and are remarkable for their singularly short leaves and stunted bushy appearance’ (Elwes & Henry 1906). Over 100 years later, and with our average winters having diminished in severity, the difficult early start described by Elwes is less consistently encountered, though still possible. A batch of C. brevifolia distributed in recent years by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh’s International Conifer Conservation Programme have had mixed fortunes (pers. obs. 2008–2018).
It should be hoped that C. brevifolia will become more commonly grown in the future, plant health concerns notwithstanding, but for now, both as mature trees and as young plantings, it remains remarkably scarce. Writing in 1972 Alan Mitchell noted only a handful of old trees in collections, and at that time the best was a 17 m tree at Borde Hill, but he added that ‘young plants raised in about 1955 are more widespread’ (Mitchell 1972). However, even by the end of the 20th century, there were so few of note that he saw no need to include it in his 1996 work Trees of Britain (Mitchell 1996). Jacobson notes it wasn’t introduced to North America until as late as 1963, when material was sent directly from Cyprus to the Arnold Arboretum (Jacobson 1996).
In continental Europe there are some excellent examples at the Folly Arboretum in Hungary, growing on the sun-drenched south-facing terraces of a former vineyard among a truly remarkable collection of conifers (pers. obs. 2019). When seen in September 2019 these trees were exhibiting perfectly the bronze hue in their young growth that can help to mark Cyprus Cedar out from the other species. Another useful and consistent character that enables quick identification are the consistently and remarkably short needles, barely ever exceeding 1.3 cm (Mitchell 1972) except occasionally on some ‘long shoots’. Scrutiny of foliage on older shoots, someway back from branch tips, is advisable in assessing this character. Farjon (2017) does note, however, that this character may be based on cultivated examples being of limited provenance.
Synonyms / alternative names
Cedrus brevifolia 'Bergmann'
Cedrus brevifolia 'Bergmanii'
Smaller in stature than the type, with an often irregular growth habit. Introduced to the trade by Iseli nursery, Oregon in c. 1985 and named for Fred Bergman of Pennsylvania, and possibly selected by him too. (Hatch 2018–2020).
Synonyms / alternative names
Cedrus brevifolia 'Epsteinianum'
A dwarf selection of slow, irregular growth, with dark green needles. Selected by and named for Harold Epstein of Larchmont, New York, a noted American plantsman and author. (Hatch 2018–2020).
A tree of narrow and pendulous habit, raised from seed at the Sénéclauze nursery, France, before 1868 (Hatch 2018–2020). This cultivar may belong to another of the Mediterranean basin species, but confirming this is likely impossible as it is likely lost to cultivation.
A shrubby selection of dense, compact growth. Selected in J.W. Archer’s garden before 1965 and introduced by the Hillier nurseries. Some plants grown simply as C. brevifolia ‘Compacta’ will belong here. (Hatch 2018–2020).
An upright, dwarf selection raised at and introduced by the Kenwith nursery, England, in 1986. The foliage is described as being ‘with sub-terminal and terminal leaves much like Larix’ (Hatch 2018–2020).
Selected from a tree with contorted branches growing at Rosemoor, Devon, and introduced to the trade by Kenwith nursery c. 1983. (Hatch 2018–2020).