Blue Atlas Cedar

Basic Information
Tree ID: 
Genus and species: 
The Blue Atlas cedar, the most popular of all Atlas cedars, is a majestic evergreen tree, with limbs covered with patches of green or blue-green needles. In its early years of life, it maintains a narrow conical form before widening into a pyramidal form after around 20 years. In its natural range (the Atlas Mountains of Algeria and Morocco), it can grow up to 120 feet high and 40 feet wide. This particular specimen stands alone in a courtyard between Hillhouse and Prospect Streets, so it has the space it deserves. Compared to most conifers, the tree is very tolerant of heat and dryness.
Jackson Blum and Emily Wu
Collected Data
Tree shape: 
Date of tree entry: 
9.48 m
Diameter at breast height: 
0.28 m

The bark of the Blue Atlas cedar is dark brown or gray and appears fissured. Along with its leaves, it has a fragrant aroma. It is susceptible to bark beetles, which may tunnel and eat through the tree bark, possibly bringing fungus or bacterial pathogens with them. Otherwise the tree is rather hardy and resistant to disease.
Twigs & branches
The branches are thornless and droop as they grow. This contributes to the pyramidal shape of the tree. The branches are resistant to breakage and are greenish brown in color.
The leaves are needle-like or filiform in shape and are aranged in spirals. Leaves are evergreen, which means they remain the same color all year round, and are colored blue or blue-green. However, younger specimens may display a silvery foliage. The leaf type is simple, its venation is parallel, and on average its length is between 10-25 mm.
Reproductive Structures
As a gymnosperm, the Blue Atlas cedar has neither flowers nor fruits. Its reproductive parts consist of inconspicuous pollen cones and ovulate cones, which produce microspores and megaspores respectively. The young pollen cone is green but turns to brown with age. Its size is small, not more than a few inches. The young ovulate cone is also green and small, but the mature seed cone is much larger. The latter is is brown and hard on the outside, and its scales are long lengthwise, wrapping around the cone in a circular arrays. The cones contain an unpleasant-tasting resin that deters squirrels. Photo Credit: Photo Credit:
  • Winter
  • Spring
  • Summer
Natural range of distribution: 
The Altas cedar is native to the Atlas Mountains of Algeria and Morocco.
Origin, history, and uses: 

English botanist P.B. Web discovered the Blue Atlas cedar in 1827 on a visit to Tangier, Morocco. By the 1840s, they were being cultivated in Britiain and Europe, and they later were brought to the United States. 

The ancient Egyptians used oil extracted from Blue Atlas cedar wood for embalming, cosmetics, perfumery, incense and medicinal purposes. The aroma serves to naturally ward off insects, making the wood a popular choice for modern furniture builders. 

The Blue Atlas cedar is monoecious, and pollination is through wind. Pollen, shed by male cones, is carried to female cones, after which fertilization and germination occurs. This conifer has slow to moderate growth. It is an evergreen, which means it remains green all year.
Other information of interest: 

There is an Atlas cedar on the South Lawn of the White House. Former President Carter designed a tree house to be built within the cedar for his daughter. The structure is self-supporting, containing no nails, and thus does not damage the tree.

George Harrison references atlas cedars in his song “Beware of Darkness.”
Media and Arts
The Blue Atlas Cedar

By Jackson Blum

Please glimpse upon this tall tree standing here

It is not native; it came from Tangier

The Brit P.B. Web considered it grand

And imported it out of the foreign land

Its expansion was man-driven, even a bit frantic

Spreading from Africa to Europe, then across the Atlantic

The magnificent Blue Atlas cedar, it deserved to be seen

It’s always on the clock, since it’s an evergreen

In the tree’s first years, it remains quite small

Be patient; it’s in for the long haul

First it grows tall, reaching up for sunshine

Then it expands, pyramidal time

Scan around at this place it has long grown

The Blue Atlas cedar stands here alone

Sinking its roots deeper, free of competition

Achieving arboreal excellence is its greater mission

I place my hand on the rough bark

Thinking, if I were Noah, I’d bring three on the ark

My fingers feel the needles, sharp and thin

Forests, unlike man, are free from all sin

To stand in this shadow, I’d go out of my way

As this mighty tree always brightens my day

Then I remark, with a smile, not a sob

“Thank you, Cedrus atlantica, for doing your job.”

How George the Spore Met His Other Half: Still a Better Love Story than Twilight

Once upon a time, on a blue atlas cedar far, far away, there lived a little pollen grain named George the Spore. George was a happy little pollen grain, who lived in a cozy little staminate cone with all of his many brothers, as well as the father microsporocytes. Yes, there were only dads, but we live in a progressive society, so that’s okay.

George was an adventurous pollen grain, but there wasn’t much to see or do in the microsporangium that he called home. One day, when he was particularly sick of hanging out with his brothers, he decided to pay a visit to the oldest and wisest father microsporocyte. (This microsporocyte was so old because he lacked an enzyme for meiosis, which prevented him from turning into a tetrad of haploid microspores.)

“O Wise One,” said George, “What is the meaning of life?”

The Wise One adjusted his nonexistent spectacles and said, “George, dear child, some say there is no meaning of life. Others say the meaning of life is to find the meaning of life. But let me tell you a secret: you have a purpose.”

“I do?” asked George.

“You do,” said the Wise One. “Come with me. I have something to show you.”

So little George tottered behind the elder until they reached the very edge of their pollen scale. This was also the very edge of George’s world.

“Take a look, George.”

George peered over the top and gasped. The view outside was beautiful: not far away, the blue-green needles of the cedar were rustling quietly in the wind. Beyond them, the blue, blue sky stretched as far as he could see.

“This is your destiny. Your purpose is to leave this cone and find your other half. Do you accept this challenge?”

This all sounded very vague to George. “Sure, but how?” he asked the Wise One.

“It will be a long and arduous journey, son,” the Wise One replied. “You might get lost. You might face obstacles. But you will find her. I believe in you.”

George was baffled, but before he could ask another question, a strong gust of wind lifted him right off the cone, and suddenly he was plummeting to the earth.

“Ahh!” screamed George. “I’m too young to die! I haven’t even fulfilled my purpose yet!”

To George’s surprise, it seemed that an omniscient being–perhaps the author of his story–heard this plea. He was falling slower and slower, heading toward a furry brown mass. He braced himself for impact, but there was no need. The surface he landed on was soft and warm and still.

“Now what?” asked George. He was in a jungle of tall brown fibers, impossible to maneuver. With a sigh, he closed his eyes. There was nothing he could do, so he decided to take a rest and started to doze.

An indeterminate time later, he was awoken by a deafening, “WOOF!”

Abruptly the mass beneath him began to shiver and shake, tipping sideways until George found himself sliding off the vertical precipice and into the air. Not this again, he thought to himself.

The next moment, he was being carried up, up, wheeling toward the sun. Is this all that life is? he wondered to himself. Riding on the winds of chance? Is there even free will?!

Unfortunately for him, the answer to the last question was no, but chance was good to young George, and he alighted on an ovulate cone not long after. Conveniently, the cone also belonged to a blue atlas cedar. Realizing that the integument was the obstacle that he had to surmount, he shimmied his way into an opening: the micropyle. There, his body began to change, and a pollen tube started to emerge from his skin. This was very scary for George, because no one had ever talked to him about puberty.

But in his moment of greatest distress, he remembered back to the conversation he’d had with the Wise One. He had accepted the challenge, he reminded himself, so he had no choice now but to be patient and open-minded.

He waited and waited, because pollen tube growth takes awhile, but at last his patience was rewarded!

On the other side, his other half was waiting: Megan, the megagametophyte.

“What took you so long?” she asked.

“Does it really matter?” said George.

Then their sperm and egg united, and everyone lived happily ever after.

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