Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani)

Also known as: Lebanese cedar, Lebanon cedar, Mediterranean cedar, Taurus cedar, Turkish cedar
Synonyms: Cedrus libanensis, Cedrus libanotica, Cedrus patula
  
French: Cèdre Du Liban
KingdomPlantae
PhylumTracheophyta
ClassConiferopsida
OrderConiferales
FamilyPinaceae
GenusCedrus (1)
SizeHeight: up to 40 m (2) (3)
Trunk diameter: up to 3 m (3)

The Cedar of Lebanon is classified as Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc) on the IUCN Red List (1). The variety Cedrus libani var. libani is classified as Lower Risk/near threatened on the IUCN Red List (1).

The cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani) is a tall evergreen tree which has been prized for its high quality timber, oils and resins for thousands of years. The national emblem of Lebanon (4) (5), it was famously used to build the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, as well as the ships and temples of the Egyptian pharaohs (2) (3) (5) (6) (7). The resin of the cedar of Lebanon was even used in mummification by the Ancient Egyptians (5) (6) (7).

This conifer usually has a single, thick trunk with many horizontal, spirally arranged branches, which can be quite stout (2) (4). In younger individuals, the crown of the tree is cone-shaped, but it broadens and flattens with age (2) (3) (4) (5). The bark of the cedar of Lebanon is dark greyish-brown and becomes deeply cracked and fissured in older trees (2) (3) (4).

The cedar of Lebanon produces two types of shoots: outstretched ‘long’ shoots which form the framework of the tree’s branches, and condensed ‘short’ shoots, which bear most of the leaves and cones (2) (5). The leaves of the cedar of Lebanon are stiff, dark green to bluish-green needles measuring up to about 3.5 centimetres in length (2) (3) (5). On the short shoots of the tree, the needles grow in tufts of around 15 to 45, while on the long shoots they are widely spaced in spirals (2) (4) (5).

The cones of the cedar of Lebanon grow singly at the tips of the short shoots, in an upright position (2) (4). The male cones are greyish-green or reddish and cylindrical, measuring three to five centimetres in length. The female cones are rounded and typically measure 5 to 12 centimetres in length and 3 to 6 centimetres in width. Turning from green to brown when mature, the female cone is covered in broad ‘seed scales’, each of which covers two winged seeds which are released when the cone breaks up at maturity (2) (4) (5).

Some scientists recognise two varieties or subspecies of the cedar of Lebanon: Cedrus libani var. libani (Cedrus libani subsp. libani), and the Turkish cedar, Cedrus libani var. stenocoma (Cedrus libani subsp. stenocoma) (3) (5). The closely related Cyprus cedar (Cedrus brevifolia) and Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica) are also sometimes considered to be subspecies or varieties of the cedar of Lebanon (2) (5). Many cultivated forms of the cedar of Lebanon also exist (2).

The cedar of Lebanon can be distinguished from the closely related deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara) by its slightly smaller needles and cones (2).

As its name suggests, the cedar of Lebanon is native to Lebanon, where it occurs in fragmented populations in mountainous areas. It is also found in the mountains of Syria and Turkey (1) (2) (3) (4) (5). The variety Cedrus libani var. stenocoma occurs in south-western Turkey (3) (5).

The cedar of Lebanon is also widely planted as an ornamental tree in many countries outside its natural range (4) (5) (6).

Typically growing at elevations of around 1,300 to 2,500 metres (2) (3), the cedar of Lebanon may occur in pure stands containing only cedar trees, or in mixed forests with fir (Abies), pine (Pinus), oak (Quercus) or juniper (Juniperus) species (2) (4) (5).

A slow-growing species (3) (4), the cedar of Lebanon can be remarkably long-lived, with reports of individual trees surviving for over 1,000 years (3). This species usually reaches sexual maturity at around 20 to 40 years old, when the first cones are produced (4) (5).

The cedar of Lebanon is a monoecious species, meaning that both male and female cones are produced on the same plant (2) (3) (4). The male cones are produced in summer and shed their pollen in autumn (4) (5), and the pollen is carried to the female cones by the wind (4). After pollination, the fertilised female cone does not mature until a year or sometimes two years later (2) (4) (5), usually between August and October (3). When mature, the female cone breaks up, releasing the seeds throughout the winter (5).

The popularity of the cedar of Lebanon is largely due to its durable, decay-resistant, sweet-scented wood, which has been used as a building material and for constructing furniture (6). The wood and oils of this species are also naturally repellent to moths (4), and its seed oils have potential uses such as in the control of mosquito larvae (8). Extracts of the cedar of Lebanon’s resin have antimicrobial properties (9), while its sap has been used traditionally to protect wooden structures against insects and fungi, as well as to treat various diseases (10).

Although it is not currently threatened on a global scale, and is relatively secure in Turkey, the cedar of Lebanon is highly threatened in Lebanon and its range is extremely restricted in Syria (1) (7). The conifer forests of Lebanon have been logged for centuries, and goat grazing, increasing pressure from urbanisation and development, and the expansion of agricultural land are all threatening the native vegetation. The original Lebanese forests are now reduced to small, fragmented and degraded patches, mainly at higher elevations, restricting the cedar of Lebanon to small and fragmented populations (4) (7) (11).

New housing and ski resorts in Lebanon’s mountains are also posing a threat to the remaining forests, and an increase in tourism is adding to the demand for ornaments made from cedar wood (4). Further threats to this species in Lebanon include insect pests, fire and pollution, which can negatively affect tree growth (7).

The cedar of Lebanon could also potentially suffer from the future effects of climate change (12) (13), with warmer temperatures affecting the growth of new trees and increasing disease and insect infestations (12). A warmer climate may mean that the cedar of Lebanon can only survive at higher elevations. As it already occurs in mountainous areas, this could eventually leave the species with nowhere else to go (12).

In Lebanon, programmes are underway to conserve and restore the country’s forests, with two cedar forests at Horsh Ehden and Al Shouf now designated as nature reserves (4) (5) (7). Since the Al Shouf Nature Reserve has been protected from grazing, there has been an increase in the regeneration of the cedar of Lebanon (7). A number of other sites are also protected by ministerial decrees, although few are managed as nature reserves (4) (7).

As it is the national tree, there is strong support within Lebanon for reforestation programmes involving the cedar of Lebanon, although these can be complicated by a lack of effective management and law enforcement (4) (7).

In Turkey, the more inaccessible nature of the terrain has helped to largely protect the forests in which the cedar of Lebanon occurs (4). This species is found in a number of protected areas within Turkey (4) (11) (14), and extensive replanting projects have taken place both inside and outside of the cedar of Lebanon’s natural range (4) (5) (11).

Other conservation efforts for the cedar of Lebanon have included the cultivation of seedlings in nurseries, which are then being planted across Lebanon (4), as well as investigations into preserving selected genetic types in the lab (15). However, some nurseries also grow closely related Cedrus species, which can be difficult to tell apart, and there has been little monitoring of what is being planted where (4).

Further measures recommended for the conservation of the cedar of Lebanon include surveying and assessing remaining cedar forests, improving forest management and law enforcement, and expanding protected areas (4). It will also be important to include local communities in conservation strategies, and to take into account the vital economic value of cedar forests to local people (7).

The natural forests of the cedar of Lebanon are considered to be important national and cultural treasures (11), and the conservation of this iconic tree will also be important to many other threatened species which rely on the vital habitat it provides (4) (7).

Find out more about the cedar of Lebanon and its conservation:

More information on conservation in the Mediterranean region:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Eckenwalder, J.E. (2009) Conifers of the World: The Complete Reference. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.
  3. The Gymnosperm Database - Cedrus libani (December, 2011)
    http://www.conifers.org/pi/Cedrus_libani.php
  4. Farjon, A. and Page, C.N. (1999) Conifers: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Conifer Specialist Group, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. Available at:
    http://data.iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/edocs/1999-024.pdf
  5. MobileReference (2008) Trees and Shrubs of the World. MobileReference, Boston.
  6. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew: Rhizotron & Xstrata Treetop Walkway - Cedar of Lebanon (December, 2011)
    http://apps.kew.org/trees/?page_id=150
  7. Talhouk, S.N., Zurayk, R. and Khuri, S. (2001) Conservation of the coniferous forests of Lebanon: past, present and future prospects. Oryx, 35(3): 206-215.
  8. Cetin, H., Kurt, Y., Isik, K. and Yanikoglu, A. (2009) Larvicidal effect of Cedrus libani seed oils on mosquito Culex pipiens. Pharmaceutical Biology, 47(8): 665-668.
  9. Kizil, M., Kizil, G., Yavuz, M. and Çetin, A. (2002) Antimicrobial activity of resins obtained from the roots and stems of Cedrus libani and Abies cilicia. Biochemistry and Microbiology, 38(2): 144-146.
  10. Kurt, Y., Kaçar, M.S. and Isik, K. (2008) Traditional tar production from Cedrus libani A. Rich on the Taurus Mountains in southern Turkey. Economic Botany, 62(4): 615-620.
  11. Boydak, M. (2003) Regeneration of Lebanon cedar (Cedrus libani A. Rich.) on karstic lands in Turkey. ForestEcology and Management, 178(3): 231-243.
  12. Bell, B. (2008) Threat to Lebanon’s symbol of survival. BBC News, 27 August. Available at:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7583757.stm
  13. Hajar, L., François, L., Khater, C., Jomaa, I., Déqué, M. and Cheddadi, R. (2010) Cedrus libani (A. Rich) distribution in Lebanon: Past, present and future. Comptes Rendus Biologies, 333(8): 622-630.
  14. Kaya, Z. and Raynal, D.J. (2001) Biodiversity and conservation of Turkish forests. Biological Conservation, 97(2): 131-141.
  15. Khuri, S., Shmoury, M.R., Baalbaki, R., Maunder, M. and Talhouk, S.N. (2000) Conservation of the Cedrus libani populations in Lebanon: history, current status and experimental application of somatic embryogenesis. Biodiversity and Conservation, 9: 1261-1273.