Cedars are a noble genus of trees in the pine family. They are native above 1,000 metres in the mountains of North Africa, the Near East and Cyprus. They also occur in the western Himalaya, usually above 1,500 metres. Cedars depend on winter rains in their Mediterranean habitat and on monsoon rains in their Indian one, but grow very happily on the year-round water supply available to them in our temperate climate. Cedars do not, however, self-seed in this country.

Dulwich has good examples of all three species of true cedar: Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani), Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica) and Deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara). In broad terms the species may be distinguished because Cedars of Lebanon tend to have level branches, Atlantic cedars have young branches that mostly ascend, while the leading shoots and young branches of Deodars tend to droop. All three species have separate male and female cones on the same tree. The seed-bearing female cones grow on the upper branches and can be a magnificent sight, especially when dripping with resin. The pollen-bearing male cones are more inconspicuous. Both male and female cones are held upright and this was one of the reasons why early botanists placed cedars with firs (Abies), whose cones are also held upright, rather than the pine family (Pinaceae), which often have hanging cones. Modern molecular research supports their present placing.

The first cedar species to be planted in this country was the Cedar of Lebanon, which is the cedar illustrated here. By the 18th century the Cedar of Lebanon became the “must-have” tree for nearly every mansion and estate in the country and its broad, yet graceful, form makes it easy to understand why. This favoured position lasted well into the 19th century, when Wellingtonia (Sequoiadendron giganteum), which are even more imposing but much less graceful, tended to supplant its popularity as a status tree. The Cedar of Lebanon appears on the Lebanese flag and, although much of its original habitat has suffered from deforestation, it has been replanted there in recent years. This is the cedar that is so frequently mentioned in the Bible and indeed is the species thought to be referred to in the Epic of Gilgamesh.

The Atlas cedar, which, as the name suggests, originates in the Atlas Mountains, was discovered by western science in 1827. Its naturally-occurring glaucous form, Blue Atlas cedar (C.atlantica f.glauca), is the species most commonly planted as an ornamental tree, but over 40 cultivars of this Cedar have been produced in nurseries. A fine example may be found in Dulwich Park, near the wildlife enclosure.

The Deodar cedar is a Himalayan species. It marks the eastern limit of cedar distribution world-wide. It has the most flexuous shape of the three, particularly when young, and the longest needles (3-6 cm, as opposed to well under 3 cm in the other two). Traditionally, Deodar timber was used in India for ship building. A 19th century plan to grow it for this purpose in Britain failed because the timber grown so far north lacked durability in sea water.

Owing to the popularity of true cedars, and because of the spicy, resinous quality of cedar wood, the name cedar has often been used as part of the English names of different species which have resinous wood. Examples include Incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens), which has been increasingly commonly planted in recent years, the various forms of Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) and Western Red cedar (Thuja plicata). These species are however botanically distinct from true cedars and do not share their characteristic spreading habit of growth.

John Hughes Trees Committee