Plant 127

Cedrus libani A.Rich. (Pinaceae)


Cedar of Lebanon

The Cedar of Lebanon was introduced to Britain by Edward Pocock, Chaplain to the Turkey Company at Aleppo, who visited Syria up to 1639. His brother was the Chaplain to the Earl of Pembroke at Wilton, Wiltshire, and it is probable that Edward Pocock gave his brother cedar cones. Subsequently, two trees were planted at Wilton, one of which was felled in 1874. 236 rings were counted, giving an approximate planting date of 1638. Edward Pocock became Rector at Childrey, Oxfordshire, where a specimen was planted in the Rectory garden.

Used for millennia, timber from the Cedar of Lebanon was prized throughout the ancient Near East. The Palermo Stone indicates the cedar was imported to Egypt in the reign of the Fourth Dynasty King Sneferu, c. 2613-2589 BCE. King Sneferu, who ordered the building of the pyramids of Dahsjur and Meidum, used 40 shiploads of cedar timber for ship building and for the heavy doors of the king's palace. Solomon's temple in Jerusalem is reputed to have been built from Cedar of Lebanon. This tree also appears on Lebanon's flag.

Irrespective of its sacred and historical associations, no tree introduced to the British Isles has provided more charm, grace or presence within a landscape than the Cedar of Lebanon. Although specimens in the British Isles have not reached the stature of their counterparts on Mount Lebanon, where the largest specimens have obtained girths in excess of 12 metres, its thick, stately trunk and regal crown of wide-spreading branches gives it an air of distinction that no other tree at present can rival.

Distributed across the coastal mountains of Lebanon, the Alaouite Mountains in Syria and the Toros Mountains in Turkey, Cedrus libani grows around the eastern Mediterranean basin at elevations between 1,300 m and 3,000 m above sea level. It occurs in pure stands or mixed with Abies cilicica in Turkey. Trees can reach in excess of 35 metres, the trunk monopodial, columnar and often branched or forked below a third of the bole. The rough bark, with flaking small plates and deep longitudinal fissures, is dark grey to blackish in colour. Needles are usually dark green, stiff, 1.5-3.5 cm long, in clusters of 30-40. Cones are stalked, solitary, erect, barrel-shaped, 8-10 cm long and 4-6 cm wide. Seed scales are very densely arranged, and the cones ripen in their second year, usually from the middle, then towards the base.

Further reading

Farjon A 2008. A natural history of conifers. Timber Press.

Hemery G and Simblet S 2014. The new sylva. A discourse of forest & orchard trees for the twenty-first century. Bloomsbury.

Semaan M and Haber R 2003. In situ conservation on Cedrus libani in Lebanon. Acta Horticulturae 615: 415-417.

Ben Jones