Cedar Tree identification

There are only 3 ‘true’ Cedars you are likely to see in Britain – the Atlas Cedar, the Cedar of Lebanon and the Deodar. Cedar tree identification is by overall tree shape, needle cluster size, and needle colour, length and softness.  They can be difficult to tell apart but generally Atlas Cedars have upward pointing tips to their branches, Deodar’s tips point downwards and those of the Cedar of Lebanon are flat. All three have similar cones. The Incense Cedar, Japanese Red Cedar and Western Red Cedar are not ‘true’ cedars. They get their names from having wood that smells similar to the ‘true’ cedars but their needles and cones are quite different. 

Atlas Cedar

The Atlas Cedar is a conifer, native to the Atlas Mountains in Algeria and Morocco, where it grows at an altitude of 1300 to 2200m. It was introduced to Britain before 1840. It is now very common in old parks, churchyards and gardens of all sizes. It is usually in the ‘glauca’ form known as the Blue Atlas Cedar, shown here. The branch-ends usually point upward.

Cedar of Lebanon

The Cedar of Lebanon is a majestic conifer, native to Lebanon, Syria and south east Turkey, where it grows at an altitude of 1000 to 2000m. It is mentioned frequently in the Bible. It was introduced to Britain in the 17th century and has since been planted throughout the country in formal gardens, estates, churchyards and parks. Its flat branch-ends make it easy to identify, compared with the 2 other ‘true’ cedars – the Atlantic Cedar and the Deodar.


The Deodar Cedar, is a conifer native to the western Himalayas, where it grows at an altitude of 1500 to 3000m and can reach 75m in height. It was introduced to Britain in 1831. It is now very common in parks, gardens and churchyards. It tends to have soft needles that droop at the end of the branches, similar the those of the European Larch but its overall shape is conical, unlike the Larch. Its cones are similar to the other ‘true’ Cedars.

Atlas Cedar needle clusters

The Blue Atlas Cedar has short blue needles in clusters of up to 45. The needles are shorter than those on the other two cedars.

Cedar of Lebanon needle clusters

The needles of the Cedar of Lebanon are short (25mm) and in clusters of 10 to 35. Each cluster is located on a short side shoot called a spur.

Deodar drooping shoots

The Deodar evergreen needles are soft and long (30 to 50mm) in clusters of 20 to 30. Because the needles are long they give the tips of the branches a drooping appearance.

Atlas Cedar cone

The Atlas cedar, like all All 3 cedars, have similar barrel-shaped cones, 9cm tall when fully grown.

Cedar of Lebanon cone

The Cedar of Lebanon cones are barrel-shaped and 9cm tall.

Deodar cone

Cones of the Deodar Cedar are barrel shaped and 9cm tall, similar to those of the Atlas Cedar and Cedar of Lebanaon