ETSU Arboretum

Tree of the Week

The Blue Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica)

The Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica), one of the true cedars, is named for its native range, the Atlas Mountains of Algeria and Morocco. Stately, picturesque, majestic — this is a superb evergreen specimen tree for landscapes in our region. In winter the Atlas Cedar is most striking. Its elegant limbs are open, almost horizontal, and bear patchy clusters of stiff green or blue-green needles. The trunk grows vertically and rapidly for the first ten years or so, and the conical or pyrimidal form of the young tree quickly brings a fine established look to the landscape. During the first twenty years of growth it casts a light, dappled shade. In maturity the Atlas Cedar widens, so it is best sited with 10-20 feet of clear area around it. In its native range it becomes quite large — to 120 feet high and 40 feet wide, but in cultivation it may grow to about half this size.

A Blue Atlas Cedar at ETSU Arboretum, beside Dossett Hall. This tree was planted in 2002 from a 5 gallon pot. It already presents a stately appearance.
A Cedrus atlantica growing beside the entrance to Pennys Department Store at the Johnson City Mall.

Two cultivars of the Atlas Cedar are most often used in our landscapes. The Blue Atlas Cedar, Cedrus atlantica cv. ‘Glauca,’ has beautiful blue-grey-green needles which stand out crisply from the branches and lawn. It has the erect growth form typical of the species. There is a weeping cultivar also, with branches which droop unless held up by stakes. This form, C. atlantica cv. ‘Glauca Pendula,’ is excellent for rock gardens where it may mound and spread, or can be trained to grow with its branches forming a curious umbrella of hanging limbs. Other cultivars of interest include a narrow-columnar tree form, cv. ‘Fastigiata,’ and cv. ‘Argentea’ with silvery-white needles, and cv. ‘Aurea’ and ‘Aurea Robusta’ with yellow-green needles. The Atlas Cedar is not difficult to grow, and does well in most soils if provided adequate drainage. It is hardy in zones 6-8 and in East Tennessee shows no winter discoloration or damage. Here it can be planted any time of the year.

A recently planted Blue Atlas Cedar along North Roan Street near Kinkos and the First Tennessee Bank. The trunk of a mature Atlas Cedar.

The ETSU Arboretum has a young Blue Atlas Cedar growing at the west side of the administration building, Dossett Hall. This handsome specimen was planted in 2002 and is now twelve feet tall by five feet broad. Two older Atlas Cedars are planted side by side at Kiwanas Park on Knob Creek Road in Johnson City. These imposing 25 foot tall trees have been planted here only ten years. The Atlas Cedar is increasingly being used in comercial landscapes, and locally one may view 10-20 year old trees outside several area businesses: in front of the J.C. Penny store at the Johnson City Mall, on North Roan Street at the First Tennessee Bank near Kinkos, and on the downtown loop in front of 101 Fountain Square. The oldest Atlas Cedar in Johnson City grows in the Tree Streets neighborhood, at a home on W. Pine Street, just east of Earnest Street.

The stiff needles of the Blue Atlas Cedar grow in clusters, giving a lovely patchy look. Cedrus atlantica leaves, from a large tree on Pine Street.

The Blue Atlas Cedar is sold locally at Evergreen of Johnson City in various sizes (3 to 10 gallon pots) for $50-140.00, and they also carry the weeping form. John Deer Landscapes sells large ball-and-burlapped specimens of the Blue, with trunks 8 feet or taller, ranging in price from $140 to $250, and sells very large specimens of the weeping cultivar ‘Pendula’ for $270 to $500. Lowes and Home Depot stock and sell these trees occasionally during the spring and summer months.

The weeping form of the Blue Atlas Cedar in very large pots for sale at the John Deer Nursery in Johnson City.

Three to four species of true cedars (the genus Cedrus) are traditionally recognized, however some botanists merge three of these as varieties of a single species. In this view the Atlas Cedar is a subspecies of Cedrus libani, (C. libani var. atlantica). The Cedar of Lebanon, Cedrus libani var. libani, is quite similar in appearance to the Atlas Cedar, but has longer needles, larger cones, and a generally less open growth form than the Atlas Cedar. The Cedar of Lebanon is native to Asia Minor, still growing in the wild in Turkey, Syria and Lebanon, where old trees may exceed 1000 years in age.

A large Atlas Cedar growing in the tree streets neighborhood of Johnson City. The trunk of a mature Atlas Cedar. Cedrus atlantica leaves, from a large tree on Pine Street.

Recommended Web Links for Cedrus atlantica:

USDA National Forest Service Fact Sheets (these three are in pdf format and will open in Adobe Acrobat:

Blue Atlas Cedar (C. atlantica cv. ‘Glauca’)
Weeping Atlas Cedar (C. atlantica cv. ‘Glauca Pendula’)
Silver Atlas Cedar

National Arbor Day Foundation Tree Guide

Floridata, a web-based encyclopedia of landscape plants

Google images of Cedrus atlantica


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ETSU Arboretum
Department of Biological Sciences
Box 70703
East Tennessee State University
Johnson City TN 37614

Tim McDowell
(423) 439-8635