Usefulness and services of the tree :
Linked trees - twinning
Features and characters of the individual
This conifer guards of one of the entrances to Parc Tenreuken. Its scent marks its territory and presence. Its large spreading branches (tabular) draws the eyes up to the sky. In the Quran, a Cedar of Lebanon serves as a giant guardian at the entrance to the 7th heaven. Thanks to the nearby stream, the atmosphere at the base of this tree is very special.
Pillar of the sky
A familiar silhouette
At one of the entrances to Tenreuken Park, visitors are welcomed by a majestic tree with a familiar, reassuring presence. It is a Cedar of Lebanon. It quietly grows there in a pretty spot not far from a small waterfall trickling over the rocks.
This particular specimen is the fourth largest Cedar of Lebanon listed in the scientific inventory of the Region. It is one of those remarkable trees that defines the landscapes of our parks.
Its silhouette is balanced, full and wide. Its immense horizontal branches give it an air of strength and protectiveness. Like a grandfather extending his arm to rest an imposing paw on our little head. Standing beneath it, we see the world again through a child's eyes.
Our Cedar has already reached a significant age, judging from the massive, platform-like expanses formed by its big upper branches. How nice it would be to lie down on one of these platforms, if only they were not so high up. Its top is a bit less regular and has become rounded: this casual style is a sign of maturity.
In fact, when the cedars are young, they grow like any other conifer. From a distance, it would be easy to confuse their silhouettes with those of some pines. Like them, they have a slender, pyramidal shape. Their architecture is guided by the growth at the top of the trunk, the apical meristem (growth centre at the apex). This active growth zone guides the main axis of the tree, the trunk, and regulates the growth of new branches on the lateral axes. Each year, a new layer of branches is formed. The lower layers, which are older, are longer than the younger, upper ones. Eventually, the lowest branches, which are exposed to less light, will naturally fall off. Thus, as long as they are young, Cedars maintain the fairly simple arrow-shape typical of conifers.
But over time, the cedar differentiates itself from other conifers: it grows wider than it is high. Its distinctive silhouette catches the eye. Its staggered branches convey a sense of serenity as they draw the eye upwards towards the sky.
A sacred, cosmic tree
The cedar is one of the most frequently mentioned trees in the Bible and it has been sacred to the Arabs since time immemorial. At the end of the Koran, the cedar is the tree that grows under the throne of Allah. It connects the Earth to the seventh heaven.
The cedar is a part of the origin myths of the Sumerian civilisation. One of humanity's oldest legends, deciphered from tablets from the archaeological site of the city of Ur, presents the cedar as the cosmic tree of the Sumerians. According to the epic of Gilgamesh, the cedar forests were sacred, reserved for the gods and forbidden to humans. They were guarded by Humbaba, a terrible monster. Gilgamesh defied the ban, defeated Humbaba and destroyed the cedar forests. A prescient tale?
In ancient times, gigantic cedars covered the mountains of Lebanon, Syria and southern Turkey (the Taurus Mountains). At the time, they were said to be already 2500 years old: although this is probably apocryphal, since cedars commonly live for 600 to 700 years, sometimes even 1000 years, but rarely much more.
A symbol of eternity and immortality, this tree of the gods has served to hold up various sacred temples: the Temple of Jupiter in Baalbek (Lebanon), the Temple of Apollo in Utica, the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, certain Egyptian pyramids and the famous Temple of Jerusalem. To construct the framework for this temple, King Solomon (970-930 BC) ordered thousands of cedars to be cut down from the mountains of Lebanon.
The epic of the cedars of Lebanon
Once they had felled the ancestral cedar forests, did King Solomon's loggers and their descendants hear the forests moaning for generations, as in the epoch of Gilgamesh?
Because cedar wood is highly resistant and rot-proof, it has become the victim of its own reputation. For many centuries, it was used on a massive scale for timber, but also for shipbuilding. Its warm reddish-brown tones with yellow streaks have made it a valuable wood, highly prized by furniture makers. A wood made all the more precious by its fragrance. Over time, overconsumption almost led to the extinction of the monumental cedar forests of Lebanon.
Fortunately, it was their beauty that saved the cedars in the nick of time. An Englishman, John Evelyn, fell in love with this species and planted it in Europe. It was so beautiful that it became fashionable in the 18th and 19th centuries in botanical gardens and the parks of large landed estates.
Thus, currently only 5 % of the cedar forests still survive in Syria and Lebanon. Among them, there are a handful of large thousand-year-old specimens. You can experience these trees if you visit the South of Turkey. In Europe, the oldest specimens are certainly to be found in the United Kingdom. The trunks of some individual trees are more than ten metres around, and are thought to be over 320 years old.
Signs of evolution
The Cedar at the entrance to the Tenreuken Park is just a youngster compared to the cedars across the Channel. If it is spared by humans and storms, it has many good years to come. It is one of the beautiful examples that grace the parks of Brussels.
If you go there, be sure to take a closer look. Its beautiful silvery-grey bark reflects the light and peels into small chips with age.
Its flowers are difficult to see because they are very small. The females are green, you need to use binoculars to see them, while the males are yellow (sometimes purple). The structure is very simple: without petals, sheaths or pouches to protect their seeds. This highly basic (if not primitive) system is typical of gymnosperms: bare-seeded trees. Gymnosperms are the oldest trees on Earth. Our cedar at the Tenreuken Park belongs to a species that has been growing for millions of years.
At the end of the season, the fruits can be clearly seen: rather cylindrical cones, measuring 5 to 8 cm, grow upwards from the branches. If you are lucky enough to find one on the ground, you can see their fine, wavy, tightly packed scales.
Its dark green foliage is evergreen. It is made up of small, fairly short needles gathered into rosettes or small bunches on a very short axis. The surface of the needles is very small: this makes it possible to limit the evaporation or loss of moisture under dry conditions and restricts the temperature exchange when the weather is very cold. The needles thus allow the cedar to withstand fairly extreme climates and to keep its foliage year-round. This is another sign of evolution: an ingenious adaptation to extreme climates.
A fragrant character
The cedar has more than one trick up its sleeve. It also has another way to withstand drought. To retain the precious water in its needles, it partly gives off volatile organic molecules that have the power to cool the surface of the leaf. It's a bit like when you put alcohol on your skin. These molecules emanate from the resin produced by the tree and are especially fragrant.
The cedar is also a tree that is renowned for its purifying essential oil. Used by the Egyptians to preserve the dead, including to embalm their pharaohs, it is also used in Buddhist ceremonies to purify the air. In the Middle Ages, it was used to cast out demons.
If you sit beneath this cedar in warm, sunny weather, you will smell its spicy, woody fragrance. Take the opportunity to allow yourself to be transported by this perfume that reaches us from the depths of evolutionary history. It’s bound to cast out any sombre thoughts.
This portrait is enriched with an illustration from the Belgian Federal State Collection on permanent loan to the Meise Botanical Garden. See attached. Thanks to the library (heritage collection) for this contribution. https://www.plantentuinmeise.be/en/home/