A Look at What is Special about the Cedars of Lebanon

Gary Greer 1/10/2023
Arab Culture

You may already know about the cedars of Lebanon from going to church or the mosque when you were young.  Indeed, these majestic trees are mentioned throughout both the Quran and the Holy Bible. In the Quran, for example, a giant cedar of Lebanon guards the entrance to the 7th Heaven. Likewise, the Holy Bible says that the cedars of Lebanon were a gift from God. Thus, preachers and imams alike will often give a sermon on cedar of Lebanon to exemplify patience and strength.

So what makes this Lebanese cedar tree so special?

Well, that’s what we’ll find out today as we take a deeper look into what makes these trees so unique.

Deeply Rooted

The cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani) is a coniferous evergreen tree in the pine family. They grow high in the eastern Mediterranean mountains at an elevation between 1,200 to 2,000 meters. It is there where temps can dip down to -30°C and there is little rainfall that the Lebanon cedar thrives.

The life of this famous cedar begins in the spring when their beehive-shaped cones create triangle-shaped seeds. These offspring drop to the ground below and a month or two later, they sprout out of the ground. For the next several years, the sapling grows into a tree with small, green needles and a thick, erect trunk. Further, they can grow for thousands of years and reach heights of 40-plus meters. In fact, some of the oldest Lebanese cedars can be found in Chouf Cedar Nature Reserve the oldest cedar tree in Lebanon is thought to be about 3,000 old.

First mentioned over 4,500 years ago, the Lebanese cedar may be the oldest tree in human history. The pharaohs of Egypt even used the tree’s wood in their palaces, temples, and ships. Later, King David would build his palace of the same wood. Likewise, David’s son, Solomon, used cedar to house the Ark of the Covenant.

So, What Happened to the Cedars of Lebanon?

Sadly, the popularity of its wood over the millennia has also led to the near demise of the Lebanese cedar. This is especially true for Lebanon and Cyprus. Years ago, for instance, Pliny the Elder recorded Lebanese cedars reaching up to 40m (130 ft.) tall on the island. Today in Cyprus, you’d be lucky to find one over 25m (82 ft.) tall.

As a result, many attempts have been made to help conserve the famous trees going back to the Roman Empire. It was then that the Roman Emperor Hadrian created an imperial forest, marking its boundaries with inscribed border stones. You can see a couple of these stones on display today at the American University of Beirut’s museum.

Nowadays, the trees are protected in several reserves located throughout Lebanon. These include the Chouf Cedar Reserve, the Jaj Cedar Reserve, and the Forest of the Cedars of God, among others.

National Symbol of Lebanon

When thinking about the cedars of Lebanon, images it conjures make clear its importance to Lebanon.  Indeed, the tree plays a large role in both the country’s and the Middle East’s history, religion and culture.  As a result, there’s no question on why it’s displayed on Lebanon’s flag and their coat of arms. National pride extends to Lebanese commerce as well. This can be seen in companies like Middle East Airlines who proudly display the tree as part of their logo. And, of course, the country’s nickname – “the Land of Cedars” - also exemplifies the trees importance to the nation.

Like its famous tree, the country has carried on for thousands of years and hopefully will for thousands of years to come.

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