It is no secret that Lebanon has witnessed myriads of civilizations that have, in one way or another, impacted its ancient and modern history. Millenniums of parading cultures roaming this little Mediterranean patch of land later, a historical witness remains still, safeguarding years of history underneath its bark, oozing the sweet scent of Lebanon through its branches – The Lebanese Cedar.
Species – While many coniferous trees fall under the cedar category, it is worth noting that false and true cedars are generally distinguished. The latter category encloses only four species whose names can be clues to their primary growing area: Cedrus atlantica, Cedrus brevifolia, Cedrus deodara, Cedrus libani.
As indicated in its name, Cedrus libani is a coniferous species in the pine family, native to the great patches of the Eastern Mediterranean basin.
According to the American University of Beirut plant database, this tree is characterized by a slow growth rate that allows the tree to reach its ultimate height of 23 meters after 20 to 50 years with 10 to 15 meters spread at maturity. (in some cases, it can reach a max height of 40 meters)
The younger tree has more of a pyramidal shape with greenish foliage, making it easy to confuse with other conifers, notably Christmas Trees. It is only after decades and decades that it spreads to its distinctive shape, extending lemon-scented branches parallel to the ground with ornating cones.
Habitat – The Lebanese Cedar tolerates frost and drought. The ideal altitude of growth ranges between 900 to 1,800 meters above sea level, though higher or lower patches can endorse this tree depending on water, shade, soil, and wind.
Despite its proven hardiness against challenging environmental conditions, the cedar remains susceptible to heat which has become one of its biggest threats.
Lebanese Cedar Forests
A handful of cedar forests are scattered throughout the country. Below are the most prominent ones:
- Cedars of God Bcharre
- Home to the oldest Cedar Forest
- Fenced off for preservation since 1876
- Tannourine Cedars Reserve
- This Nature Reserve protects one of the largest and densest cedar forests in Lebanon
- 80% of the trees in the forest are cedars.
- Haddath el Jebbeh Cedars Forest
- About three hundred thousand trees of Cedrus libani Type
- Some of these trees are older than 1000 years.
- Ehden Nature Reserve
- Unique assemblage of conifers, deciduous and evergreen broadleaf trees
- Isolated phytoclimatic region with a highly varied topography.
- Maasser el Shouf Cedars Reserve
- The largest of Lebanon nature reserves
- Encloses the cedar forests of Maasser Al-Shouf , Barouk and Ain Zhalta – Bmohary
- These Cedar forests account for a quarter of the remaining cedar forest in Lebanon
Climate Change, The Cedar’s Achilles heel
With renown comes greed, and as civilizations praised the Cedars of Lebanon, they chopped them down. From the Mesopotamians to ancient Egyptians, Romans, crusaders, and many others, Lebanon’s deforestation was a multicultural long-term crime that has impacted the country’s cedar count. The forests have survived though, encrusting the Lebanese Survival characteristic.
Nowadays, another threat has risen to become yet another challenge threatening our remaining cedar population. Climate change. Ironically, this could be the most threatening issue to ever hit it in history.
When Temperature rises as a consequence of climate change, the cedar’s ecological optimal growth zone moves up to higher altitudes in order to reach cold winters. However, if the rise of greenhouse gas emissions maintains its rising rate until 2100, it might get us to a point where cedars will only survive in the utmost northern tips of the country (A. Bernard, New York Times, 2018).
In addition, climate change leads to alterations in the life cycles of insects, triggering insect infestations that could be deadly to trees. This repercussion has not spared Lebanon’s Cedars. In fact, the Tannourine Cedars Forest Nature Reserve has lost around 7% of its trees, the aftermath of insect infestations occurring before 1997.
While climate change’s impact amplifies with time, we must act fast.
In addition to all measures taken in order to reduce climate change and carbon emissions, preserving the remaining Cedar cover and recovering its lost parts is a must. Though a good number of local and international Non-Governmental Organizations work on reforesting and planting Cedars, we must plant wherever we can and as much as we can. Plant now, because in 50 years, that little sapling put into the soil will become the next history witness shading over future generations.
Hand in Hand, Tree after Tree, we reforest our beloved country.
Eng. M. Bou Zeid