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The Atlas Cedar: Cedrus Atlanticus

I have a deep interest in nature, gardening, and sustainability. The local arboretum is my universe of learning, and my garden is my lab!

A picture of the very upright Atlas Cedar pinecone.

A picture of the very upright Atlas Cedar pinecone.

Atlas Cedars - Magnificent Trees

Atlas Cedars grow beautifully and well into old age. These are long-lived, formidable trees. They can be found under the species Cedrus Atlanticas in the family pinaceae. They live in temperate parts of the world, but their natural habitat is on mountain tops. Atlas Cedars prefer to be surrounded by their own kind, but can mingle well with other conifers or deciduous trees. They can take dry soil up to the point that explains where they originally hail from, which is Morocco and Algeria, throughout the Atlas Mountain range. They also live in the central and western Rif Mountain ranges.

Atlas Cedar Pine Cones

These trees usually grow up to 120 feet tall but have been known to grow taller, and they grow about 40 to 60 feet wide. As they age, they tend to flatten out at the top instead of continuing to grow in a loosely pyramidical shape. They are also a very solid-looking tree because of their habit of growing limbs low and outward instead of higher up on the trunk. Contrary to their massive limbs, the pine needles are somewhat delicate, including about fourteen to each group of needles. They are a beautiful blue-gray color. The pine cones are a different story. At any given time, you may be able to view three different colored pinecones on one tree. Towards the bottom of the tree are the male pinecones, which will be spring green when they are immature and brownish as they mature. Towards the top of the tree are the female pinecones and these are larger and an unusual bluish-purple color at maturity.

The sturdy female pinecones that sit towards the top of the trees.

The sturdy female pinecones that sit towards the top of the trees.

Why This Tree Is Important

We humans are not the only ones who rely on this tree. It goes without saying many different small land animals, and birds use this tree for food and shelter, but did you know that it is the only home to the Barbary Macaque? I know some monkeys live in trees in the jungle, but who would've guessed a monkey lives in a cedar tree at the top of a mountain? The Barbary Macaque depends on this tree for its home. Unfortunately, this tree is on the endangered species list due to overharvesting, along with the Barbary Macaque. To help the Barbary Macaque, first learn more about them and what their needs are. Macaques are social animals and like to gather together in groups and can be found in the sturdy branches of the Atlas Cedars for protection from the weather or just to socialize. If you would like to learn more, I would suggest looking on any nature website or contacting the BMAC, which stands for Barbary Macaque Awareness and Conversation (, to find out how you can help. Your local library is also a great place to learn more about these intriguing monkeys.

Beautiful Cultivars

The Atlas Cedar can grow very large, usually much too large for a home, unless you have a lot of acreage. So with that said, enjoy them in a public garden. If you would like to enjoy them on your property, there are some varieties that will work perfectly. If you are as enchanted as I am by these blue-green beauties, you may want to look at some of the following cultivars:

  • Sahara Ice Cedar: Beautiful open form and compact in size, growing to about 7 feet high by 3.5 feet wide. The needles are very striking, turning almost warm silvery white in spring, then moving to a variegated color at tips of silvery white and blue-green to gray. By winter, the needles will be either white or blue-green at the tips. The base remains a mid-green, giving the whole tree an ombre effect. Very striking. At ten years they are mature, but during their growth period, they will grow about seven inches per year.
  • Hortsmann: Just as beautiful as Sahara Ice, but more upright and less open and denser with many horizontal branches. This specimen also matures in 10 years and grows to about 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide. it also has beautiful blue-green foliage and is great for small landscapes.
  • Sapphire Nymph: is tiny; this beauty only grows to 10 inches tall, yes, less than 1 foot high, and will be a little over 2 feet wide. If you have neighbors who fear trees will grow out of control or if you have a tiny front yard, this is your tree.

All of the above-listed trees mature in about 10 years, so, as they are growing, mark a border for them with stone or brick or something so you don't run them over with the lawnmower. Plant them in full sun.

Variety of atlas cedar - Sahara-Cedar-Ice

Variety of atlas cedar - Sahara-Cedar-Ice

Cultivation Needs of the Atlas Cedar

Just remember where the Atlas Cedar came from; the Atlas Mountains in Morrocco. They are used to standing on the top of the mountains and getting their fair share of the sun. With that said, site them where they will get at least four hours of sun. This tree grows in just about any type of soil, acid or alkaline. After they are established, the can take some drought. They have very little known pests; These are general guidelines. Please keep in mind all Atlas Cedars like well-drained soil. For each cultivar, check for special needs. For the most part, these trees are very self-sustaining, give much to your landscape and give years of beauty in return.