An impressive evergreen needled tree, the blue Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica f. glauca) potentially grows 100 to 130 feet tall and 30 to 40 feet wide. Magnificent as a solitary specimen tree in a spacious lawn or on the edge of a lake, this cone-producing plant also develops attractive fissured silvery gray bark. The persistent blue-gray needles and branches mask the bark. Grow the relatively slow-growing blue Atlas cedar in USDA winter hardiness zones 6 through 9.
Blue Atlas cedar is native to the Atlas Mountains of Morocco in the extreme northwestern reaches of Africa. It is a naturally occurring form of the Atlas cedar, which displays more greenish needles in comparison to those of the blue Atlas cedar.
This species of cedar is a member of the pine family, Pinaceae. It is in the same genus (Cedrus) as other "true cedars" such as the cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libanii). Cyprian cedar (Cedrus brevifolia) and the deodar cedar (Cedrus deodora), which are widely grown in ornamental gardens, too. This genus of plants is not in the same family as the trees from North American commonly referred to as cedars (Juniperus spp.), or eastern Asia cedars (Cryptomeria spp.).
On the branches of the blue Atlas cedar are short spurs that carry short shoots of needles. The needles are 1/2 to 1 inch long and slightly curving and grow in spiraling clusters of 30 to 45 needles, according to the American Horticultural Society's "A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants." They are colored a frosty silvery blue or blue-gray, being nearly white when first emerging on new growth. The needles are shed annually across the growing season and replaced with new needles on the branch spurs.
As a gymnosperm (non-flowering plant), the blue Atlas cedar doesn't flower but reproduces by developing male and female gendered cones on its branches. In early fall the male cones appear across the tree branches. They are erect, narrow cylinders and light brown, measuring no more than 3 inches in length. They shed their pollen into the wind and fertilize the female cones on the tree. The female cones are barrel-shaped and much rounder/plumper in shape. At first they are green in color but ripen over two years to become brown, about 5 inches long. Once mature, the female cone dries and breaks apart and releases the dry, naked seeds into the wind for dispersal.
Since this tree reaches such large mature proportions, select a spacious landscape site to plant it. Blue Atlas cedar needs a fertile soil that is moist but well-draining. It is tolerant of urban air pollution, drought and sandy soils but grows faster and more lushly if not in such conditions. Avoid garden sites that are bombarded by wind gusts. It should receive full sun (at least eight hours of direct sun rays daily) in order to develop a uniform shape and habit.
In the nursery trade, blue Atlas cedars may be sold with the cultivar name "Glauca." Although this has no taxonomic merit, the name is readily assigned to individual trees demonstrating a particularly blue or attractive silvery blue needle coloration. A weeping cultivar, "Glauca Pendula" bears exceptionally pendent branches, ultimately creating a smaller-sized tree that can be trained to look like a dome or curtain.
- University of Connecticut: Cedrus Atlantica
- "A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants"; Christopher Brickell and H. Marc Cathey, eds.; 2004
- "Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs"; Michael A. Dirr; 1997
- Photo Credit pollen image by photlook from Fotolia.com
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