One of the most revered trees in history is the Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus Libani), native to the mountains of Lebanon, Syria and Turkey. According to the Scriptures, King Solomon used cedar wood for the temple in Jerusalem, and the Phoenicians built ships with cedar wood to support their trade along the Mediterranean coast.
The Cedar of Lebanon is a large evergreen with irregular broad-spreading horizontal branches. When young, the tree is more cone shaped but then flattens with age. On the shorter branches of the tree small rigid needles grow in dense clusters while on the longer shoots the needles are scattered along the branches. The trunk of young trees is covered with smooth, dark-gray bark while on older trees the bark becomes brown, fissured, and scaly. Large, barrel-shaped cones are usually light green when they first appear on the tree and become grayish brown in the second year.
The Marquand Park arboretum currently has two cedars of Lebanon in its collection. A younger cedar can be spotted on the left side of the path running east from the parking lot towards the wisteria. It was donated by the Princeton Nursery in 1971. The other cedar blends into a row of evergreens along the park’s southern edge and is located close to a small gate towards Guernsey Hall. The second cedar is a much older tree and, we believe, one of the park’s originals. Many rare trees were introduced into the park during its early existence, but most died and cannot be found in later descriptions or inventories. However, this older cedar of Lebanon is consistently mentioned throughout the park’s history. It was acquired by Richard Stockton Field as a small tree around 18421 and we can trace its growth, struggles for survival, and uninterrupted presence in the park over almost two centuries.
In an 1858 article, Visits to Country Places 2, a cedar of Lebanon on Richard Field’s estate was called a stubborn foreigner growing as rapidly as a white willow and able to withstand harsh winters. The nature of the soil – yellow loam on a subsoil of gravel – was mentioned as one of the reasons the tree was doing so well. Another article in the same year entitled: Encouragement for Young Planters 3 described the same tree as loaded with thousands of cones which would mature in 1859. For dating the tree this is an interesting observation because a cedar of Lebanon must be at least twenty years old before bearing fruit; thus, establishing the age of the tree around 1835 – 1838. The tree became so well known that Henry Winthrop Sargent decided to include an illustration of the cedar in his expanded edition of A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening by Andrew J. Downing (1859). By this time the tree was 36 feet high but had suffered some browning in the harsh winter of 1855-1856 4.
In 1867, a very busy Judge Field finally wrote an eagerly anticipated article on his beloved pinetum and had the following observations on the Cedar of Lebanon:
My largest specimen [cedar of Lebanon] is now upwards of forty feet high and has borne cones for several years. It suffers more or less from the cold every winter. It is too tender for our climate, and never can become here what it is in England and France. It is besides very slow in its growth, and cannot be recommended for general cultivation.5
Josiah Hoopes included an abbreviated version of Fields’s pinetum in The Book on Evergreens published in 1868. Hoopes was far more optimistic about the cedar’s hardiness than Judge Field recommending it without reserve given the proper care and cultivation. Hoopes optimism is not surprising. After all he was a nurseryman and had to make a living selling trees to a wealthy clientele 6.
In 1870, Judge Field died, and the estate was sold to Susan Dod Brown. The winter of 1871- 1872 was quite severe and many evergreens in the arboretum died or were severely damaged. However, a report on the arboretum entitled: The Winter at Princeton, presumably by the son of Susan Dob Brown, noted that the Cedrus Libani remained uninjured. 7
Shortly after the estate was sold again in 1887 to Allan Marquand, Charles Sprague Sargent, the first director of the Arnold Arboretum described the tree as “fifty-four feet high with a trunk girth, one foot above the ground, of seven feet and two inches, and a spread of branches of thirty-three feet.” According to Mr. Sargent, this growth was not remarkable for the age of the tree and mostly could be blamed on the less than ideal climate for the tree.8 Sargent’s measurements were repeated in an article in American Forestry by George Nash in 1913 9.
The tree is listed by Eleanor Marquand in her tree inventory of the estate in 1917 and also in an unpublished manuscript written in 1937.10 Ms. Marquand noted that a Norway spruce had been planted near the cedar as a nurse tree to protect the frozen needles from the heat of the sun in the winter time. The tree should have been removed years ago and was the reason why the cedar did not have any branches on its south flank. A photograph dated around 1914 in the Historical Society of Princeton shows a lush cedar of Lebanon with a large Norway spruce located in the back. Then, James Esson in an article on Mrs. Marquand’s “Trees at Guernsey” in 1942 recorded the circumference of the trunk at 8 feet and 10 inches without providing any additional details about its condition 11.
In 1953, the estate became a public park, and when Dorothy Compton, a retired school teacher in Princeton, published the first of many articles on the outdoors in the Princeton Harold (1960), she chose Marquand Park as her first topic to write about. On her visit to the park she paid homage to the cedar calling it a “living museum piece”. She estimates its height at 60 feet but did not measure the trunk 12.
To date, the circumference of the cedar of Lebanon is 11 feet and 2 inches (measurement taken a foot from the ground to facilitate a comparison with previous measurements). Its height is estimated at 70 feet. Compared to cedars from the same era, the growth of the tree is indeed not remarkable. A cedar of Lebanon of similar age in the Tyler Arboretum in the Delaware valley has gown almost twice as large. Still it is miraculous the tree survived despite the many storms, cold winters, and other challenges it endured.
Realizing how difficult it was to grow cedars of Lebanon in our harsh climate, Charles Sprague Sargent hired Walter Siehe, a German botanist and seed collector who had observed in the mountains of Anatolia a subspecies of the cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus Libani stenocoma) with a better chance of survival. In 1902, Sargent obtained from him a large bag of cones with ripe seeds that successfully germinated and resulted in a large plantation of rapidly growing cedars at the Arnold arboretum 13. Many of the hardy cedars of Lebanon in this country are assumed to be descents of the Arnold arboretum trees including a beautiful specimen in the Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia. The younger cedar planted in Marquand Park in 1971 is a hardy Cedar of Lebanon and maybe related to one of the Arnold Arboretum trees as well.
2. The Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste, vol.13, 8, pp 357-8, 1858
3. Magazine of Horticulture, Botany and all Useful Discoveries and Improvements in Rural Affairs, 1858, vol 24, pp 454.
4. Andrew J. Downing, A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening, revised and enlarge edition ( New York, 1859): fig 38.
5. Magazine of Horticulture, Botany and all Useful Discoveries and Improvements in Rural Affairs, 1867, vol 33, pp 41.
6. Josiah Hoopes, The book of Evergreens. A practical treatise on the Conifers, or cone-bearing plants. (New York, 1868): p. 422
7. The Gardener’s monthly and horticulturist, 1872, vol 14, p. 343
8. Garden and Forest; a Journal of Horticulture, Landscape Art and Forestry, 1889, vol 11, pp. 148-149
9. American Forestry, 1913, Vol 19, p. 392
10. Princeton University Library, Allan Marquand Collection.
11. The Horticultural Society of New York Monthly Bulletin, 1942, May, p. 6
12. Princeton Herald, 1960, vol 37, January 27.
13. Anthony S. Aielo and Michael S. Dosmann, The Quest for the Hardy Cedar-of-Lebanon, Arnoldia, 2007, Vol 65, No 1, pp. 26-35