Features and characters of the individual
Cedar trees: facts and stories
Cedars belong to a family of trees that has existed for millions of years! An Atlas cedar can easily live for 500 years, while a cedar of Lebanon can sometimes live for 600–700 years. Some specimens are even believed to be more than 1000 years old!
Long before our time, cedar trees were renowned for their longevity and considered sacred in many cultures. They were a symbol of life for Ancient Egyptians, Sumerians, Greeks and Romans. They are also one of the most mentioned trees in the Bible. Cedars have always been revered in the Arab world and Islam too: at the end of the Quran, a cedar tree is said to be growing under Allah’s thrown, connecting Earth and the seventh heaven.
In ancient times, the mountain regions of North Africa and the Middle East were mostly covered with cedar forests. The oldest of these giant trees are now endangered, as they have been exploited for several centuries: their wood has many advantageous qualities, including being hard, fragrant and resistant to rot.
Luckily, the cedar of Lebanon became very fashionable as a decorative species in parks across Europe from the 18th century onwards. Then, in the 19th century it was the turn of the Atlas cedar, which is notable for its use in reforesting mountain regions in the south of France. In modern times, Atlas cedars are now being used in reforestation projects across Europe’s Mediterranean regions.
Did you know?
As the planet has undergone changes over time, cedar trees have been able to adapt to extreme climates.
The secret to their success is in their foliage: their needle-like leaves are the result of some ingenious biological adaption. Along with their tough (hard) texture, these needles have a particularly small surface area: this limits the amount of water that can be lost through transpiration when the weather is dry, and also helps to reduce heat loss when the weather is very cold. This means that the tree is able to keep its foliage all year round (evergreen).
Cedars have a few other tricks up their sleeves too. As with most trees, they produce volatile organic compounds (VOCs): microscopic substances that are emitted from the leaves. These compounds have superpowers, for example in repelling pests and preventing diseases. The VOCs produced by cedar trees are particularly special, as they have the power to cool the surface of leaves (similar to applying alcohol to human skin). By keeping the leaves cool, water loss through transpiration is prevented. This is very helpful during periods of drought!
The benefits of Atlas cedar trees
In towns and cities, the primary role for cedar trees is decorative, appearing in parks, gardens and public squares. The blue Atlas cedar is the most highly regarded species. Its green-blue (glaucous) foliage adds a distinctive touch of colour to any urban landscape. Its exotic origins help with diversifying the range of trees in the city. Its small leaves (needles) may not be as productive as typical tree leaves, but the benefit here is that they are kept all year round. As long as temperatures stay above freezing, cedar trees will produce oxygen throughout the year. These trees also help to purify the air by capturing fine particles, and they diffuse the pleasant scent of their resin all around. Cedars are also renowned for their cleansing essential oils.
How to recognise an Atlas cedar
needles (2–2.5cm), green-blue (glaucous), arranged in small clusters (rosettes); do not fall from the tree all at the same time
always present on the tree (evergreen)
cones (5–8cm), egg-shaped (ovoid) with many thin scales; sit erect on the branches; contain winged seeds
silvery grey; flakes off with age
Specifics about this tree
Although this tree is located in the corner of the park, it has a strong presence that doesn’t go unnoticed. This is especially true in winter, when this cedar is the only tree here that still has leaves (in this case, needles). The tree’s silhouette is broad and well balanced, with an ample crown. The huge horizontal branches give the tree an air of strength and guardianship. This appearance is quite comforting to behold.
The serene atmosphere around this tree is likely due to the green-blue colouring of its foliage. This shade is uncommon, both in this park and with trees in general. As a colour, blue is renowned for its calming effects, while green promotes trust and balance.
This tree releases a pleasant scent, especially when temperatures are mild. Its foliage gives off micro-droplets of essential oils, which are known for their ability to open our airways and boost the immune system.
When visiting this tree, take a seat at the top of the hill where there is a small panoramic seating area at the foot of the tree. Sitting here, take a moment to breathe in and feel your airways open up, then take your time admiring the tree’s silvery grey bark and the rest of the view across the park. Guaranteed relaxation!
(Story and photos created by Priscille Cazin- Sylvolutions)
This portrait is:
- Enriched with an illustration from the Belgian Federal State Collection on permanent loan to the Meise Botanical Garden.
- An initiative of Christos Doulkeridis, Mayor of Ixelles , Audrey Lhoest, portfolio holder for Environment, Green Spaces and Planting, and Tourism and the Ixelles Communal executive