Seeking the True Cedars

Revised: February 2023

If you were asked to name a cedar, and you responded with Western Redcedar, you’d be wrong. It’s not a true cedar.

If you said Incense Cedar, you’d be wrong again.

Alaskan Yellow-cedar, Nootka cedar: wrong again.

Port Orford Cedar: Wrong

Eastern Red Cedar, Eastern White Cedar: WRONG!

Mountain Cedar, Persian Cedar, Bermuda Cedar: Wrong, Wrong, Wrong.

There are only three True Cedars, none of which are native to North America.


There is a convenient mnemonic device to help us remember the names of the true cedars. Not only is it a mnemonic — it is a DOUBLE mnemonic.

This handy tool — ALD — not only reminds you of the names of the trees; at the same time it also provides a descriptor for each tree:

Atlas has Ascending growth tips
Libani has Level growth tips
Deodar has Descending growth tips

“Horticultural students are sometimes advised to use alliteration to identify Cedars: ascending Atlas, level Lebanon, drooping Deodar, referring to the direction of growth of the youngest shoots.”

“This might be sufficient to get through one’s plant identification exams, but later on it becomes clear that it isn’t so simple”.

Atlas Cedar

Cedrus atlantica

Cedar of Lebanon

Deodar Cedar

Cedrus deodara, Jim Robbins CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

The native range of the True Cedars is the southern and eastern areas of the Mediterranean basin, reaching as far east as the western mountains of the Himalayas.  When we traveled in Tunisia in the spring of 2000 we tried to find guides to take us across the border into Algeria. We wanted to see the Atlas cedar in its native range, the Atlas Mountains. We were strongly discouraged by the likelihood of being kidnapped

The taxonomy of the cedars is controversial. Some dendrologists claim that a fourth True Cedar exists, the Cedrus brevifolia, which grows only in the Troödos Mountains of central Cyprus. Others consider the Atlas cedar a subspecies of Cedrus libani. To further complicate matters, recent studies argue that all the cedars are a single species, Cedrus libani, and the others are subspecies.

The cedars are undeniably similar in their general appearance, and even an expert can be hard-pressed to be absolutely certain as to which is which.

Lucca, Italy, 2002

Atlas cedar in the Orto Botanico (Botanical Garden)

Boboli Garden, Florence, 2009

Boboli Garden in Florence, Italy, was established by the Medici family in 1553 and opened to the public in 1766. Here Gayle is identifying an Atlas cedar for two awestruck visitors.


  1. We have drawn from five articles by Tom Christian from the website Trees and Shrubs Online ( . . . ). Christian, T. (2020). Accessed 2021-05-16.