The cedar tree is native to the Himalayas and countries around the Mediterranean, but it can be found in many parts of the world with mild climates. True cedar trees have no varieties native to the U.S., but people plant them for ornamental purposes. A cedar is an evergreen tree (meaning it has leaves all year round) with a distinctive, spicy scent.
Cedar Tree Species
The cedar family of trees (Cedrus genus) includes four species (Deodar cedar, Atlas cedar, Cyprus cedar and Lebanon cedar) within the plant family Pinaceae. These are the only true cedars, but many other trees are commonly known as cedars, such as the Atlantic white-cedar, the Northern white-cedar, the Eastern redcedar and the Western redcedar. When cedar is used to describe native trees of the U.S., it refers to a group of conifers or "cone-bearing" trees that have very fragrant wood. These are arborvitaes, or "false" cedars.
Cedar Tree Appearance
The Lebanon cedar is a large tree, growing up to 130 feet. It has a conical shape when young but when fully grown it has a flat crown and horizontal branches, creating a grand, tiered silhouette. It has grayish-brown bark and short, dark green needles. The Atlas cedar is a medium-sized cedar, reaching up to 60 feet in height. When fully grown, it is a flat-topped tree with horizontal branching. It has a dark gray bark with fine, flat scales, and blue-green to silvery blue evergreen needles. The slightly smaller, pyramid-shaped Deodar cedar grows to about 50 feet and has soft grayish-green or blue needles and drooping branches.
The Eastern redcedar, which grows throughout the Eastern U.S., is an evergreen tree or shrub from the cypress family (Cupressaceae) and is closely related to junipers in the genus Juniperus. It grows up to 30 feet tall and has short, needle-like foliage and thin bark that often sheds into thin strips. The Western redcedar (also called the Pacific redcedar because it is found primarily in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S.) is an evergreen that belongs to the genus Thuja. It is a tall tree, often growing to 200 feet, with dense, pendulous branches and a conical to irregular crown. The Northern white-cedar is also from the genus Thuja. A medium-sized tree, it grows up to 50 feet. It has gray to reddish-brown bark that shreds easily, a conical to pyramidical crown and spreading, dense branches.
Cedar Trees in History
The cedar tree had a significant role in ancient culture. The Lebanon cedar is frequently mentioned in the Bible and was used to build King Solomon's Temple and to seal David's house. Cedarwood oil, extracted from the foliage, woods and roots of the cedar tree, was one of the first ingredients in perfumery. The ancient Sumerians used cedarwood oil as a base for paints, and ancient Egyptians used it in embalming practices.
- Michigan State University Extension: The Cedars
- Iowa State University Forestry Extension: Eastern Redcedar
- Iowa State University Forestry Extension: Northern White-Cedar
- USDA: Atlantic White Cedar
- American Conifer Society: Cedrus Genus
- Virginia Tech Dendrology: Atlas Cedar
- Oregon.gov: Western Redcedar, "Tree of Life"
- ODNR Division of Forestry: Eastern Redcedar
- USDA: Northern White Cedar
- UMass Amherst: Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Low Maintenance Landscapes
About the Author
Claire is a writer and editor with 18 years' experience. She writes about science and health for a range of digital publications, including Reader's Digest, HealthCentral, Vice and Zocdoc.