Cedar of Lebanon

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Another of our noteworthy trees in the Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens is the Cedar of Lebanon (cedrus libani). A slow growing tree that can live thousands of years, the Cedar of Lebanon has existed in the world for many millennia and is often said to have been planted by God. (Ours, of course, is still very young by comparison!) There are many biblical references to the Cedar of Lebanon – a symbol of strength, beauty and majesty.

A mature Cedar of Lebanon has a massive trunk, a flattened top and broad spreading horizontal branching. Lower branches typically remain on the tree as it ages, often touching the ground. It is a slow-growing tree that will typically grow to 40-60’ tall.  The needles resemble those of the larch, but are evergreen. The needles are grouped in tufts of 30-40, are a dark blue-green color, and stay attached to the tree for 2 years. When they fall to the ground they don’t decay for several years.

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The tree has had many practical uses throughout its existence. One of the most valued construction timbers in ancient history, the wood was used by the Phoenicians to build ships, and by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, and Persians to construct houses and temples. Cedar resin was used for mummification, and its bark used for various medicinal purposes. The Ottomans used cedar wood as fuel for railway engines. And the list goes on.

The tree is symbolic of Lebanon and still graces its flag, yet after millennia of harvesting the tree is in trouble.  In 1876, Queen Victoria ordered a protective wall to be built around a 102-hectare grove, but deforestation continued despite this. In recent decades the cedars have been declared a protected natural resource. By then, this immense forest had been reduced to just a couple of hundred specimens that grew in a handful of isolated patches.

One of the few remaining stands of ancient cedars is the “Cedars of God”  located in the Qadisha Valley and is said to be the oldest remaining cedar grove in existence. In 1998 it was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  While deforestation is not a major problem there now, climate change is a huge concern instead. Global warming has interrupted the natural ability for the trees to viably reproduce, so in recent years there has been an effort to regenerate the cedar forests through planting programs. I refer you to a great article by The New York Times about the current situation.

Our wee Cedar of Lebanon is only an upstart compared to its ancestors, but we hope that future generations will see it continue to grow into a majestic specimen. After all, “A man does not plant a tree for himself; he plants it for posterity.” (Alexander Smith – 1863)

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