O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree
How lovely are thy branches
We are all familiar with the evergreen that decorates our homes every December of the year. While the tradition has morphed from native trees to plastic mimics kept in houses to celebrate Christmas time, nothing beats the view of natural Christmas trees singing carols for the hills to cheer and the skies to shine.
Amongst its rich flora, Lebanon was blessed with its very own Christmas tree, known as the Cilician fir or Abies cilicica in Latin.
Approximately fifty Fir species grow throughout the world. Only one, the Cilician Fir, is restricted in its natural distribution to the mountains of northern Lebanon and western Syria, and to the Anti-Taurus Mountains of eastern Turkey.
According to the book Trees of Lebanon, the Cilician Fir has a symmetrical pyramidal shape and grows 25 to 35 meters high. Its aromatic needles are short and glossy, with two white bands on their underside. The most difficult part of growing Fir trees is collecting the seeds, which are borne in cones that grow so high they cannot be reached easily. To collect cones, one has to climb to the top of the tree, which can be complicated, due to the dense branch arrangement and the sticky resin.
However, due to the over-exploitation of conifer trees in our area, the Cilician fir (Abies cilicica) now occupies only 1 % of the total vegetation cover of Lebanon. While cutting this tree is forbidden in Lebanon, it is frequently planted and harvested for timber in other nations.
The little population of this threatened fir has, however, been severely diminished by current illegal logging in the Karm Chbat protected area. Recently, about four tons of conifer timber were felled for firewood, mostly Abies cilicica. While the species as a whole in Lebanon retains minimal genetic variation and is vulnerable, this fir population in Lebanon contains the majority of the genetic diversity of Abies cilicica.
Salvage Lebanon's Christmas Tree
Recently, under an arrangement with the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute, seed gathered from this population was delivered to the International Conifer Conservation Programme at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh as part of an ex situ conservation initiative.
A strategy for fir conservation in its natural area of distribution is necessary due to the species’ susceptibility to the effects of climate change. This strategy entails management plans that forbid grazing in certain forest areas and further restore the ancient forest through assisted natural regeneration or plantation of “nurse plants.”
Only conservation starts with us.
Let those evergreen oxygen machines grow.
Let them ornate our hills.
Let the Green remain green.
Stop cutting the Lebanese Christmas Tree.
Eng. M. Bou Zeid