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Plant of the Week: Blue Atlas Cedar

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture does not promote, support or recommend plants featured in "Plant of the Week." Please consult your local Extension office for plants suitable for your region.

Plant of the Week

Blue Atlas Cedar
Latin: Cedrus atlantica 'Glauca'

Blue Atlas Cedar

Trees of exceptional grace and beauty are a welcome addition to any landscape, but sometimes gardeners forget the operative word is "tree" and put these specimen plants in impossible locations.

One of the plants I frequently see poorly sited is the Blue Atlas Cedar. Because they have such an interesting and picturesque habit while young the tendency is to locate them where they simply do not have enough room to express themselves as they age.

The Blue Atlas Cedar is a stiffly upright tree that is grown widely by West Coast nurseries and is becoming increasingly common in our nurseries. As a youngster the tree is stark -- almost looking more like a piece of modern art sculpture than a plant -- but eventually it grows into a 60-foot tall tree that can be 35-feet across. So, obviously siting is critical.

The trees are pyramidal while young but with age become flat topped with horizontal branches. The evergreen needles are a light blue gray color, individually 1-inch long but borne on short spurs in tufted clusters. When compared to the closely related Cedar of Lebanon (C. libani) the leaves and upright cones of the Blue Atlas Cedar are smaller.

The Blue Atlas Cedar is native to the Atlas Mountains which form a 12,000-foot wall from west to east across the northwest corner of the African continent in Morocco and Algeria. The Atlas Cedars were not discovered until 1827 when P.B. Webb, an English botanist, visited Tangier and was shown a branch collected by a native from the interior of the range. The trees occur between 4,000 and 7,000 feet and are one of the principle conifers of the mountain range where they occur in widely scattered stands.

The blue color to the leaves is due to a wax deposit which occurs on many species of conifers which grow in areas frequented by severe drought.

In England, this tree is one of the most spectacular trees in many of the old gardens where 100-foot tall specimens are common. It was apparently introduced into cultivation about 1840 and probably made its way to this country about that same time. Several garden forms have been selected including a bizarre weeping form called ‘Glauca Pendula’ which has branches that droop from its few main limbs like icicles from a roof in winter.

In the garden, the Blue Atlas Cedar shows the growth habit of the typical American male, it grows quickly in height, to 20 feet, and then begins to spread out. It is the most cold hardy of the true cedars and will grow as far north as St. Louis and Boston.

The plant grows best in better soils but is not especially finicky about soil type. Once established it has great drought tolerance. Fortunately it also tolerates heat as well as cold and does not seem to resent our summer humidity. It can be grown throughout the state as a landscape specimen but must be situated at least 20 feet away from buildings or its nearest neighbor.

By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension Horticulturist - Ornamentals
Extension News - February 4, 2000


The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing area.