The cedar of Lebanon is a large evergreen conifer that is known for its grand presence and valuable wood. It is also a tree with a history dating back to the biblical times of the Middle East. Known scientifically as Cedrus libani, the Cedar of Lebanon is native to the Mediterranean regions of North Africa and Asia Minor, which include Lebanon, Turkey and Syria.
The cedar of Lebanon has needled foliage on its branches, which is a dark bluish green. The branches are carried in a horizontal fashion, which allows this tree to have a very wide and broad crown. The bark is gray in color and smooth when the trees are young but will become cracked and plated as the trees age. The cones are egg-shaped and 3-4 inches tall and will fall apart at maturity to release the seeds. Very majestic trees, mature cedars of Lebanon can reach a height of 60-80 feet and a width of 50-60 feet. In ideal conditions, this tree can live to 1,000 years or more.
Although there are many trees that are called cedars, the cedar of Lebanon and its close relatives the Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica), the Cyprian Cedar (Cedrus brevifolia) and the Deodar Cedar (Cedrus deodara) are the only trees considered to be true cedars by botanists. The wood of true cedars is very strong and was used extensively in building structures and ships. The wood is also very resinous and fragrant, which is similar to that of other trees known as cedars, such as the Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata).
During the time period of the Old Testament, forests of cedar of Lebanon were numerous and plentiful. These trees were used to build temples and are cited in passages of the Old Testament of the Bible as metaphors for life. The ancient Romans also used the wood to build their ships and were known to cut down vast forests for their own consumption. Because of this, most of these ancient stands that were cut down were never replaced over the last thousand years, leaving barren deserts in their place.
Fortunately, there are individual forests that are now protected from deforestation in Lebanon to preserve and protect these ancient and historically valuable trees. Individual cedar of Lebanon trees have also been planted around the world as ornamentals. In the United States, a very nice specimen can be found growing near George Washington’s tomb in Mount Vernon, Virginia. It was planted on December 15, 1899, to commemorate the anniversary of his death.
Very hardy trees, cedars of Lebanon can tolerate hot summers and cold winters and withstand USDA zones 5 through 8. They prefer soil that is very well-draining and need full sun exposure. While the straight species can be used as a single ornamental tree in a large garden, a few smaller cultivars are available that will not grow as large and are suitable for smaller gardens.
Like the famous oak trees of Europe and North America, the cedar of Lebanon is regarded as a very special and spiritual tree for people of both the past and present civilizations. The country of Lebanon uses an image of their namesake tree on their flag and is still home to the largest and oldest specimens of cedars of Lebanon in the world.