Author: Susan Parsons
Cedrus libani is the national tree of Lebanon and is prominent as the centerpiece on the Lebanese national flag.
The Qadisha Valley on Mount Lebanon has been a celebrated place of pilgrimage for centuries and this Forest of the Cedars of God was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1998. The area is covered by snow for much of the year so access is limited. In a dozen scattered groves, the trees grow on rocks and scree.
Two cedar areas were examined by Rania Masri in Lebanon in 1995. Bcharre, the oldest, most famous area covers seven hectares and Jabal el-Barouk is the largest naturally regenerating cedar forest with three separate stands of 216 ha. This had been grazed by goats and cut every twenty years until 1960 for commercial purposes. In 1985 a reforestation program was commenced by the Committee of the Friends of the Cedar Forest and a Cedrus libani nursery was being developed.
In the snowy Taurus Mountains the 1,000 year old cedars are gnarled. Every August, on the eve of the Feast of the Transfiguration, the monks of the Christian Maronite faith gather among them. The next day the Patriarch celebrates High Mass at an altar built under one of the oldest trees.
The high resin content of wood preserved Cedrus libani from fungal decay so it was used in the construction of temples. Pharaohs carved their sarcophagi from it and the Emperor Caligula constructed ships from cedar wood. When Solomon rebuilt the Temple of Jerusalem it is said that he obtained permission from the King of Tyre to cut down cedar trees from Mount Lebanon for use in its construction, although the great Sir Joseph Hooker thought this debatable.
Hugh Johnson in “The International Book of Trees” (1973) includes a photograph of a grove of 400 ancient trees on Mount Lebanon, said to be 2,500 years old, though he says this is possibly a generous estimate.
When seeds of Cedrus libani reached London in mid-17thC they were planted by Sir Hans Sloane in the Chelsea Physic Garden. In the 18thC the cedar of Lebanon was the only exotic tree used by Capability Brown in his landscapes. In 1761 the Duke of Richmond planted 1,000 cedar trees at Goodwood, many of which were demolished by a hurricane in 1987. Michael Pembroke in “Trees of History and Romance” (2009) says Cedrus libani trees at Wilton House in Wiltshire are older. Edward Pococke, first Arabic scholar in England, travelled to Aleppo to become Chaplain to the Levant Company. On his return in 1636 he brought back seeds from the cedar trees on Mount Lebanon and gave some to the Earl of Pembroke. One was planted in 1638 which was felled in 1874.
HRH The Prince of Wales in “The Garden at Highgrove” (2000) writes about the towering, majestic Cedrus libani, to the western side of the house, which is 200 years old and “lifts the heart”. It overhangs the Thyme Walk designed by the Prince and Lady Salisbury. ‘Highgrove and The Cedar Tree, Gloucestershire 1995’, reproduced from a watercolour painting by the Prince, appears on tins of Duchy Original organic biscuits baked in Scotland. In 2000 The Prince planted three new cedars of Lebanon at Highgrove.
Cedrus libani grows to 20-30m tall, usually forking low into several main trunks. Branches spread horizontally in distinctive flattened tiers of foliage. Female cones are barrel shaped and it is said that the trees do not bear cones until forty years old and the fruiting cones take two years to mature.
Dr Roger Spencer in “Horticultural Flora of South-Eastern Australia” (1995) says Cedrus libani ssp brevifolia from Cyprus is sometimes offered in the trade and that Cedrus libani and Cedrus atlantica are known to intergrade in the wild.
As locations of fine specimens he lists Mylor SA, Bathurst, Mt Wilson ‘Yengo’, SE side Commonwealth Ave ACT (identification needs confirmation), Royal Botanic Gardens Melb on Hopetoun Lawn and ‘Woolmers’ Tasmania 100 yrs old in 1990.
Pryor and Banks in “Trees and Shrubs in Canberra” (1991) say Cedrus libani is close to Cedrus atlantica in botanical features. Now sparse in Lebanon Mountains, there are substantial forest stands of this species in southern Anatolia, Turkey, near Antalya. “A few trees in Canberra SE side of Commonwealth Ave inside the footpath are reputed to be cedar of Lebanon however more botanical investigation is necessary before they can be confirmed as true cedar of Lebanon. In its main characteristics is it indistinguishable – the distinctive form developed by the mature tree with its very marked flat top cannot be expected to show up for many years.” Lower branches often sweep to the ground. The distinctive cones do not mature until the second or third year.
In Yarralumla Nursery’s early hand-written records of tree seeds and saplings received in Canberra, the only reference to Cedrus libani is seed received in 1949 from Morocco.
DISMUT records 27 May 2009, provided by Professor Cris Brack, do not show any examples of C libani listed in the streets of Canberra and this was confirmed by Paul Killey, a PhD scholar at the School of Botany and Zoology at the ANU.
There are 54 specimens of Cedrus atlantica on Kings Avenue which were planted in 1927 and 76 specimens of C deodara in Telopea Park also planted in 1927 all of which are still in good condition.
At the annual ball of the Lebanon-Maronite Ladies’ Association at the Wentworth Hotel in 1938, Misses Joy and Dorothy Allen and Mrs R Beveridge (secretary) are seen in a photograph from the Sydney Morning Herald dated 18 August 1938, with a cedar tree from the hills of Lebanon. The tree was one of six which were presented to the Federal Government by the Lebanon Republic to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of European settlement in Australia. The trees were said to have arrived in Sydney on the ‘Orana’ on July 27, 1938 and cared for at Sans Souci.
In 2003 Paul Convy, Secretary of the Australian Lebanese Historical Society wrote to the Territory Records office in Canberra trying to find the location of these trees. He has information about Cedrus libani being planted in Orange, NSW, in 1923 and mature trees in Albury and Bathurst Botanic Gardens.
The Society website refers to the historic Lebanon cedar grove, Arz-el-rub (Cedars of God) which has been sacred for 6,000 years. Mr Convy says the Cedars strike a special chord with not only those who were born in Lebanon, but also those with Lebanese ancestry. It is a very special motif for them.
When researching TCG Weston for his thesis, Canberran Dr John Gray found reference ("NAA: CP209/12, Diary and General Notes of T. C. Weston 1913-1921") to three commemorative trees planted in 1914 at Old Canberra House in Acton. The National Archives of Australia hold the Weston papers and on 3 April 1914 in a hand-written note in pen in his rough diary, he records. “Day similar to yesterday... Cultivating through Residency border. Preparing for tree planting by Earl Grey and Sir G Strickland. This was performed by them during the afternoon. The trees planted were a Cedrus Deodar, Cedrus Libani and Abies Douglasii (Lady Grey, Earl Grey and Sir G Strickland in order of name.”
In Weston’s records for 1912 I found a note from Scrivener (Charles Robert Scrivener, then Director Commonwealth Lands and Surveys), to Messrs Yates and Co, 184/8 Sussex Street, Sydney “order for plants 6 Cedrus Atlantica, 6 Cedrus Liboni [sic], 6 Cedrus Deodor [sic]”.
In 2009 Judy Horton, Communications Manager for Yates, said their early records did not confirm that Cedrus libani was then in stock.
In “Building and Landscapes ANU Campus” by Banks and Gaardboe (1996), regarding Old Canberra House at Acton, the authors say, “The entrance is dominated by two deodar cedars, the larger being one of the original landscape plantings…”
In personal communication from Professor Lindsay Pryor to Dr Robert Boden in 1997, regarding identification of species of cedar at Bridges House, Pryor says, “I do not know this tree but there is strong inheritance in cedar trees at Duntroon of individuals with upright branch growth from low levels on the trunk and they have been the source of seed for older plantings of cedar in Canberra eg in Reid and Ainslie many of which retain the habit. I have always taken them to be Cedrus atlantica... I doubt if we have ever had Cedrus libani in Canberra although some plantings in the parliamentary triangle were labelled Cedrus libani. There is purportedly true Cedrus libani in the Blundell’s arboretum which is much younger and may be the real McCoy. It would need some effort to come down one way or the other (if it is worth it).”
Among plants of the bible in the Bible Garden, at the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture in Barton, landscape architect Mervyn Dorrough of Redbox Design Group says the single "Cedar of Lebanon", supposedly Cedrus libani, was supplied in 2008 to the contractor by Hazelbrook Nursery. Wendy Pitches, who had purchased it in, believes that the tree came from Conifer Gardens in Victoria.
Under Commemorative Trees in Pryor and Banks’ book on Canberra they note that a Cedrus atlantica planted by the Duke and Duchess of York in May 1927 was originally recorded as Cedrus libani but this was incorrect. Head Gardener at Government House in 2009, Norm Dunn, confirmed this but said that a specimen of C libani was planted by the gardeners in the early 1990s and another by then Ambassador of Lebanon Mr Abul-Husn and Mrs Dallas Hayden (wife of then Governor-General) in 1992. Both these
In 1989 at Parliament House, then Prime Minister Bob Hawke planted a Cedrus libani imported by the Embassy of Lebanon as a Bicentennial Gift to the people of Australia.
In 1991 then Chief Minister of the ACT, Rosemary Follett and the Ambassador of the Lebanese Government planted Cedrus libani at Lennox Gardens.
The most important Cedrus libani in this district are a pair of trees in the grounds of St Saviour’s Cathedral in Goulburn. They bear engraved plates recording that they were planted by Dame Alice Chisholm on her return from the Middle East in 1918. Honorary Archivist at the Cathedral, Alan Tierney, advised that Dame Alice was born in Goulburn in 1856 and grew up on a rural properties. When her son was wounded at Gallipoli she went to Egypt to care for him and started a soldiers’ canteen.
Goulburn landscape architect, Michael Bligh, understands that Dame Alice brought the seeds back with her. This was confirmed in 2009 by Mrs Sheila Hoskins, resident in a street adjacent to the park. She was a friend of Pat Thompson, who was formerly a Chisholm, and relative of Dame Alice. These trees have a unique place in the history of Australia.
In May, Adam Burgess, Curator of the Arboretum, collected thirty cones from the trees in Goulburn. In November 2009 seeds from these cones came out of stratification at Yarralumla Nursery. The Arboretum also received 200 seeds from Lebanon via Kew were treated to meet Austalian seed import specifications and these went in for stratification in November 2009 to be sown in 60 days’ time.
A forest of Cedrus libani is planned for possible planting in late spring 2010. Stock will also be purchased from other nurseries for planting.