Cedar of Lebanon

Cedrus Libani

This tree was planted in the Park on 21st November 1993 to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Independence of Lebanon. There was an hour-long ceremony attended by His Excellency the Ambassador of Lebanon, befitting one of the most architectural and majestic of all trees.

Botanically, cedars are members of the pine family and there are only four types. Two of the others were already in the Park: the deodar and the Atlantic cedar. This last one is a rather stunted specimen from Cyprus and very rare. An easy way to tell them apart is that the deodars have pendulous branches, while those of the Lebanon are horizontal and the Atlantic’s point upwards. But this identification doesn’t always work! Lebanon cedars also have upward pointing branches when young, in which case an extra tiny spine on the tip of the leaf in the Atlantic Cedar separates the two. When young, cedars of Lebanon are pyramid-shaped and only widen after 2 years into the stately, eye-catching tiered shape we are familiar with seeing outside fine houses.

The tallest of the Cedars of Lebanon with their huge horizontal branches is at Petworth (132 feet).The nearest good secimen is at Chiswick House. This was planted in 1720. The oldest in the country is in a rectory garden at Childrey, near Wantage. It was planted in 1646 and has a 25 foot girth. The hard winter of 1740 killed off most of the early plantings and the cedars alive today date mainly from the late eighteenth century when Capability Brown and others planted them liberally outside country houses. Two of the most famous were planted by the riverside gate of Chelsea Physic Garden facing the Park in 1683, where they excited comment for 150 years or more before eventually dying. The beautiful, butter-yellow wood was made into a chair which can still be seen there today in the library. Although the sapwood is yellow the heartwood is pink with parallel lines. It has a light scent which is known to repel insects and was at one time burned as incense. It is not particularly strong and rather brittle, but it is useful for making furniture and boxes. The resin has been used for embalming. These properties might explain why fungi never seem to attack the tree.

The tree does not flower for the first twenty-five years of its life, and then takes another year to form attractive blue-green cones. These don’t mature into the barrelshaped cones that sit upright on the branches for yet another twelve months. Specimens seem to grow about one foot a year for the first 150. On Mount Lebanon there is a grove of truly wild trees, some of which are over 40 feet in girth. These cedars are claimed to be in the region of 2,500 years old, which is probably exaggerated, as are the claims that some of the wood was used to build Solomon’s temple.

The trees like deep, dry rich soil that is well drained. The Park Cedar of Lebanon was planted on a cold day with an unseasonal dusting of snow. We wish it well and hope it has a history as splendid as some of its relatives.