The atlas cedar tree is a proud member of the pine family (Pinaceae) and the genus Cedrus, meaning that it is a true cedar. There are many cypress and juniper species with common names indicating they are a cedar tree, like the northern white cedar tree, when they are actually part of a different genus.
This needled evergreen conifer gets its name from the great Atlas mountains of Morocco, where this remarkable tree is native to. Some think that this tree is a subspecies of a Lebanon cedar, whereas others believe it to be its own distinct species.
Atlas cedars are one of the most popular cultivars of their growing regions. The two most popular cultivars are the blue atlas cedar (cedrus atlantic ‘glauca’) and the weeping blue atlas cedar (cedrus atlantic ‘glauca pendula’). These trees are known for their beautiful foliage color, and distinct crown shapes.
Are you feeling curious about other types of trees? Have you always wondered the difference between evergreen and a deciduous tree species? You needn’t look further than our amazing article series, 101 Types of Trees. There you’ll find all the information you could ever ask for about trees, with the individual in-depth articles about every single one! So once you’re done learning about the atlas cedar, head on over there!
Related: Northern White Cedar Tree | Western Red Cedar Tree | Atlantic White Cedar Tree | Types of Cedar Trees and Wood
What do Atlas Cedar Trees Look Like?
Cedar trees are known for having very shallow root systems because they tend to grow in areas that have perpetually moist soils, and therefore don’t need to access moisture reserves deep in the earth.
In the case of the atlas cedar tree, they also have shallow roots, even though they exist in much drier conditions than other cedar species.
This shallow root system helps with tree cultivation and ornamental trees, as they are easy to transplant and are usually easy to care for.
Atlas cedar trees are large trees, with an average height of 30-35 meters, and some exceptional trees in ideal growing conditions that exceed 40 meters in height. Trees will usually have a trunk diameter around 1.5 to meters.
Atlas cedars are a very slowing growing tree, and they will usually grow less than 12 inches per year. They have very strong, thick, and vertical trunks.
A young tree is known to have a more narrow conical shape, whereas a mature tree will have developed a more pyramidal shape.
Branches usually grow horizontally with slightly pendulous branchlet tips. The weeping blue atlas cedar tree is cultivated to specifically have very drooping and pendulous branches that create an umbrella canopy shape.
Atlas cedars have dark gray/brown bark. This bark is deeply fissured, and is known for having a very deep cedar scent.
Atlas cedars are evergreen, meaning that their leaves will remain green and persist all year long, regardless of the season. Evergreen tree foliage is sometimes more like a needle or scale shape than a leaf shape.
This tree bears needle like leaves, which are a great indicator that it is a true cedar tree. Needles are borne in tufted clusters of 10-20 on short spurs. They are arranged in spirals and are quite stiff.
They are 1.5 inches long, and are characteristically bluish green needles, with some specimens having more green foliage. The blue atlas tree is cultivated to have very light blue needles.
These blue green needles are known for having a very strong smell, as they are filled with natural essential oils. This aroma is a natural deterrent for insects!
How do Atlas Cedars Reproduce?
A cedar tree is a conifer, meaning that it has cones as reproductive organs rather than flowers. Cedar trees are monoecious, meaning that a single tree will possess both male cones (pollen cones) and female cones (seed cones). Cedar trees are wind pollinated.
Atlas cedar trees are known for being barrel shaped, and this is one of the easiest ways to identify an atlas cedar.
A pollen cone is 2-3 inches long, and sits completely erect on the lower branches of an atlas cedar tree. The cone will start out its life as a bright green color, and eventually mature to brown over a 2 year period.
A seed cone is larger than a pollen cone, usually 4-5 inches long, and is borne on the upper branches of an atlas cedar tree. These cones start out as a purple color and also mature into brown.
Pollen cones release their pollen in the spring and is dispersed by wind. This pollen lands in the scales of a seed cone (usually on another tree specimen) which will the fertilize the seed.
Once a seed cone is entirely mature, its scales will open up to release the seeds that are ready for germination. Seeds come equipped with light papery wings that help them with wind dispersal.
What are Some Other Types of Cedar Trees?
The Atlantic White Cedar Tree (Chamaecyparis Thyoides)
Atlantic white cedars are native to the Atlantic coast of North America, specifically along the gulf of Mexico and 100 miles inward. They are a medium to large tree, between 20 and 30 meters tall.
They are an obligate wetland species, meaning that part of the tree must be completely underwater for its entire growing season. This restricts them to very specific growing areas.
The Northern White Cedar Tree (Thuja Occidentalis)
Northern white cedar trees are native to the eastern side of North America. They grow in abundance in regions with cool summers and short growing seasons.
They are a sometimes small, sometimes medium sized tree. When cultivated they usually only reach 15 meters in height, but when growing in the wild the can reach 35 meters in height. They are one of the most popular trees for landscape uses, such as hedges and screen trees.
The Western Red Cedar Tree (Thuja Plicata)
Western red cedars are native to the western side of North America, and are the most abundantly growing and prosperous tree of that growing region.
These trees are extremely large, and have an average height of 65-70 meters. They have large and open crowns, and makeup a huge percentage of the forest canopy in the Pacific Northwest.
Since these trees are so enormous, they are mostly found in the wild rather than in cultivated landscapes. They have a very significant role in the First Nations community for their structural and medicinal value.
Where do Atlas Cedar Trees Grow?
The native habitat of atlas cedars is in the Atlas mountains of northern Africa in Morocco. They grow in vast forests in the most humid growing zone of the country, starting from the Middle Atlas range, to the Oriental and the northern High Atlas range, and westward towards the central Rif Mountain range.
These trees have also been cultivated all over the planet for their attractive qualities, and they can grow successfully in hardiness zone 6 through 9.
Morocco has the largest population of atlas cedars, with their growing range spanning over 163,000 hectares. They grow in pure stands, are are commonly associated the Algerian fir, the holm oak, and the Italian maple.
When growing in the wild, atlas cedars can be found in large forests on mountainsides at elevations occurring between 1370 and 2200 meters above sea level.
Atlas cedars can tolerate a great many soil type, ranging anywhere from acidic to alkaline, loamy to sand to silty loam, moist or dry.
Despite these tolerances, they prefer to exist in wet soil and well drained soil. They are tolerant to drought, more so than any other cedar species.
Atlas cedar trees prefer to exist in full sun or slightly partial shade.
The atlas cedar tree prefers to grow in humid locations, and with moderate levels of precipitation. They prefer to grow in temperate regions that don’t experience long dry seasons.
How are Atlas Cedar Trees Used?
The atlas cedar is one of the most commonly cultivated cedar species in its growing region. Two of the most popular cultivars are the blue atlas cedar (cedrus atlantic ‘glauca’) and the weeping blue atlas cedar (cedrus atlantic ‘glauce pendula’).
The blue atlas cedar is known for having incredibly silvery blue foliage that stays the same color all year long.
The weeping blue atlas cedar is known for being able to be trained and pruned to have a very attractive crown shape. Pendulous and downward drooping branches create a very coveted umbrella shape, making them a special garden specimen tree.
Because of the high value of the essential oil in atlas cedar wood, it is not commonly used commercially. However, the population is currently in danger due to overuse by humans by individual wood harvesting.
Atlas cedar wood is filled with naturally nice smelling essential oil, and it is naturally repellent to insects. For this reason, this wood is often used for lining closets and cabinets to help keep moths away.
One of the main uses for atlas cedar trees is the extraction of their lovely smelling essential oils. It is known that ancient Egyptians used to extract oil from the wood for perfumery, incense, embalming, cosmetics, and medicinal purposes as well.