Cedar of Lebanon-Cedrus libani

The oldest of cedars, the species from which the others in the cedrus genus descended. It is found naturally in Turkey, Cyprus, Lebanon, but it can be grown in large parts of northern North America and Europe. It was once found throughout Lebanon however it now is found in only a few stands.

Its branches are long broad swaths with a characteristic weep. A naturally occurring C. libani has a medium sized trunk, and the primary branches shoot up near vertical close to the trunk. The secondary branches fan out horizontally from the primaries, and weep at the ends. The result is a dense black center with broad green swaths that run perpendicular to the trunk. Young trees have a conical shape, but as they age, the tree becomes more flat-topped. The needles are a dark blue-green color; the bark is thick and black (but is not very stringy, unlike the false cedar Calocedrus decurrens (Incense Cedar)). The male cones are like those of other true cedars, tightly pack and gray-brown resembling a wasp's nest. The female cones are small and red, and are only found at the top tips of the tree.

These trees are some of the most beautiful in the world, and are also increasingly rare in their natural habitats. The species has at least two different races, a dense tree that adapted for northern climates and a sparse tree adapted for southern climates. The northern variety is grown commonly as an ornamental or landscape tree, but its natural habitat has practically vanished. The southern variety, the one indigenous to Lebanon is fairing better in the wild, but is not commonly planted.

My experience personal experience with these trees is twofold: I have worked on some conservation in Cedars of Lebanon Park in Lebanon, Tennessee, US, and while there procured some cuttings to grow myself. Tennessee is a fairly hot climate for these trees, but they cared for in the summer. The notable thing about the park is that it is planted with the southern variety of the cedars (the northern probably wouldn't survive). These cedars do not look like those found in the northeastern US; without any grooming they have developed into a more stereotypical shape, while many of the northern trees have shapes indistinguishable from pines. I really admired the trees while we were there and I got some very good cuttings, which were cloned for me.

As with all good cuttings, these became bonsai. I will say this: the trees are absolutely beautiful, but they are very difficult to grow, particularly as bonsai. First of all, they need deeper pots than most, because they seem to develop very large root structures for their size. Second of all, they basically refuse to look anything like their larger brothers (err, genetic material donors), they will not grow flat topped, and making a tree flat topped can be accomplished in two ways: cutting the top, or pulling branches up. They do, however, branch like the larger trees. Thus I would suggest you not try to develop the trunk as much as you would on a pine or spruce, and focus on getting the proper primaries and pulling them close into the center. Group all the primary's secondaries together to form tufts (it will do this naturally, so just help it). You'll also need to train the secondaries down if they want it to weep because the real weep comes from the weight of the branches, which a bonsai won't have.

Fertlize them often, and keep them out of direct sunlight and heat, be aware of their natural climate. The southern probably make better bonsai because they develop stronger branches. Mine have never formed male or female cones. These trees are very sensitive to water and environment, so I would try to be as attentive with these as possible. They do not die back much after a repotting, but they are slow to regrow foliage after they are cut back. The cuttings I have are only two years old, but I have fertilized them often and brought them inside in the winter, and they have grown to what I would estimate to be the average size of a three year old. I have four, and they are all trained in the same natural style. They are so beautiful in nature, I could think of nothing better.

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