Cedar trees

The two magisterial cedars in the cloister of Salisbury Cathedral, planted in 1837 to mark the accession of Queen Victoria, are not the only specimens of Cedrus Libani to excite admiration: there are many others, especially in the grounds of stately homes, to remind us that from the early 18th century onwards this tree became a popular choice for the landscape gardener, having already spread westward from its native hillsides on the Levant, not naturally but by human endeavour.

©David Hamp

It is a tree mentioned wonderingly in the Bible, and associated with its habitat on Mount Lebanon—huge, majestic, in its native conditions able to reach 120 feet, and a provider of the finest timber; fragrant, with a medicinal bark, and in modern times the national emblem of the Lebanese people.

It is now widespread as a forest tree in the Eastern Mediterranean; but further west and north, as in the British Isles, it does not reach its potential for size, quality, or timber, but rather is planted as an ornamental tree— sometimes, because of its longevity, to mark some special occasion.

This was not a familiar tree in Classical Greece or Italy: and when, for example, Virgil mentions the cedrus, he is referring to something different: a species of juniper, probably Juniperus oxycedrus—another aromatic plant, and used medicinally for the skin, but a smaller tree.