True Cedars in the City

47°40’18.8″N 122°18’35.8″W
47.671898, -122.309944

The stately home in the photo above was the home of William and Louise Beck. The Becks owned the large tract of land that eventually became Ravenna Park in Seattle. Their home, built c. 1910, gives an approximate age for the magnificent Atlas cedar in the side yard. Gayle lived a few minutes from this tree for nearly 30 years.

The upper canopy of the tree intrudes on the air space over the house. For over a century the stewards of this tree have been willing to share their living space with an enormous tree.

As this image shows, true cedars can survive in an urban setting, even in somewhat constrained settings, if the stewards are willing to share their space and protect the tree.

This Virginia state champion Atlas cedar (below) lives at Maymont Mansion in Richmond, Virginia. James and Sallie Dooley built their home in 1893 and planted several true cedars on the estate. This tree, like many true cedars at country estates in the United Kingdom, dominates the landscape in a vast, open lawn. This ideal space gives the tree room to express its full glory.

Maymont Mansion, Richmond Virginia

Siting a true Cedar in the urban forest

As a young tree the Atlas cedar is stark – looking more like a piece of modern art sculpture than a plant. The tree grows quickly to 20′ and only then begins to spread out. Because of this growth habit property owners commonly think they are planting a tame conifer that will behave itself, like an Arborvitae pyramidalis; they may discover they have planted a monster that wants to take over the property.

Below: a carefully renovated apartment building with several true cedars used as foundation plants. These will outgrow their space and will have to be removed.

The Atlas cedar was introduced to the horticultural trade in the 1840s. The glaucous (or blue) forms occur in natural populations of all four True Cedars, but it is the prevalence of these forms in C. atlantica that has made the Atlas the most popular True Cedar.

Below: An Atlas cedar in a planter.

Below: An Atlas Cedar in a pocket garden, entering its juvenile stage and about to expand horizontally. Such siting mistakes would not occur if nurseries and landscapers informed the public about the growth habit of true cedars.

The trees in the image below are planted in a graveled corner of a planting strip, directly over water mains for the apartments in the background. When we spoke with the property manager for the apartments, telling him what these trees would become, he responded:

These are small ornamental bushes. And even if they do outgrow their space it’s nobody’s business but our own.

This unfortunate response is all too common where people assert a property rights attitude over common sense.

One of the trees we frequently see poorly sited is the Blue Atlas Cedar. Because they have such an interesting and picturesque habit while young the tendency is to locate them where they simply do not have enough room to express themselves as they age.

Gerald Klingaman
Blue Atlas Cedar
University of Arkansas Extension

The tree below hovers protectively over two homes. Fortunately, the owner on the right is grateful for the gift of cooling shade and hasn’t objected to the invasion of his airspace. These are good neighbors and joint stewards of the tree.

Atlas cedar, San Diego; November 2021
Photo by Jocelyn Brierton
32°46’16.6″N 117°06’31.4″W
32.771277, -117.108732


  1. We have drawn from five articles by Tom Christian from the website Trees and Shrubs Online ( . . . ). Christian, T. (2020). Accessed 2021-05-16.
  2. The True Cedars; Adaptation to the Urban Landscape, USDA Forest Service, by Paula M. Piju


Maymont Arboretum
Maymont Tree Care
Maymont Trees (Partial List)

Related pages

Seeking the True Cedars

True Cedars in the City (This Page)