Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 635 Cedrus atlantica

Common Names: atlas cedar Family: Pinaceae (pine Family)

Atlas Cedar 'Glauca'
This young Atlas cedar cultivar 'Glauca' (growing in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park at the Strybing Arboretum) is distinguished by its silvery blue foliage while the species is more bluish green.


Atlas cedar is a large and majestic evergreen conifer that can get as tall as 120 ft (36.6 m) and have a spread of 100 ft (30.5 m). More commonly, and especially in the US, it grows 40-60 ft (12-18 m) tall and 20-40 ft (6-12 m) wide. This cedar is neatly cone shaped in youth, becoming more open and spreading with a flat top as it ages. The bark is silvery gray and fissured. The stiff, needlelike leaves are bluish green, less than 1 in (2.5 cm) long, and clustered in tufts on short lateral spurs. The egg shaped cones are 3 in (7.6 cm) long, green while developing and brown when mature. When ripe they shatter to release papery winged seeds.

Selections include 'Aurea' with yellowish needles, 'Glauca' with silvery blue foliage, and 'Glauca Pendula', a bizarre clone with no central leader and drooping and spreading branches that require staking and training.

Atlas cedar cones
These mature Atlas cedar cones are about to split open releasing hundreds of papery seeds.


Atlas cedar, Cedrus atlantica, is native to the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and Algeria in northern Africa.


Atlas cedar does well in sandy to clayey, and acidic to alkaline soils. It grows fast and upward for the first 10-20 years, then as the central leader loses dominance, growth slows and the crown spreads. In young trees, lateral branches may have to be pruned back to keep them from breaking under their own weight. Never prune the central leader though, lest the tree's beautiful form be destroyed. Light: Full sun or partial shade. Moisture: Drought tolerant once established. Hardiness: USDA Zones 6 - 9. The cultivar 'Glauca Pendula' is perhaps somewhat hardier - Jack grew this shrubby version of Atlas cedar in Cincinnati, Ohio which is in Zone 5. Propagation: Atlas cedar is usually grown from seed. Cultivars are grafted onto seedlings of the species.


Atlas cedar is an imperial and picturesque specimen tree with massive, horizontal spreading branches. It is long lived and needs lots of space and should never be used as anything but a specimen or widely spaced in groves so that its magnificent form can be fully appreciated. Atlas cedar is tolerant of hot, humid weather and may be a better choice in the southern USA than deodar cedar (C. deodara) which sometimes dies back from the top.

The peculiar 'Glauca Pendula' is not treelike and is much smaller and slower growing. This curious plant is especially handsome in rock gardens where it can be groomed into a bonsai-like specimen. If you are patient you'll have fun training the "weeping" Atlas cedar like a slow growing vine along fence tops or over arbors where it's drooping branches will eventually form cascading curtains that sweep the ground.

espaliered cedar
A venerable Atlas cedar makes a spectacular sight espaliered against a stone wall in beautiful Stanley Park in Vancouver British Columbia (I think this is the park headquarters building...).


Most botanists recognize four species of "true" cedars: Cyprus cedar (Cedrus brevifolia), cedar of Lebanon (C. libani), deodar cedar (C. deodara), and Atlas cedar. They are so similar that some botanists treat them all as subspecies of a single species, and some combine all but deodar cedar into one species. So you may see Atlas cedar referred to as C. libani subsp. atlantica and C. brevifolia as C. brevifolia subsp. brevifolia in some publications.

Steve Christman Steve Christman 2/24/00; updated Jack Scheper 1/25/03, 9/11/04

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Cedrus species profiled on Floridata:

Cedrus atlantica

( atlas cedar )

Cedrus deodara

( deodar cedar )

Cedrus libani

( cedar of Lebanon, cedar-of-Lebanon )

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