Contributed by Katherine Wagner-Reiss

Cedrus atlantica ‘Aurea’ at Morris Arboretum. Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss.

Is Cedrus atlantica native or non-native to Pennsylvania? The answer is easy if you know that there are no native Cedrus trees (cedars) in North America; this is a non-native evergreen from northern Morocco and Algeria.

What does the botanical name tell us? Cedrus is the Latin name for a cedar.  The specific epithet atlantica can mean either of/from the Atlantic Ocean or of/from the Atlas Mountains; in this case it means the latter, thus the common name for this tree is Atlas cedar.

Ten Cedrus atlantica are found in the Morris Arboretum Catalogue of Plants: six of the straight Cedrus atlantica species (Atlas cedar), one Cedrus atlantica ‘Aurea’ (Golden Atlas cedar), two Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca’ (Blue Atlas cedar), and one Cedrus atlantica ‘Green Wave’ (Green Wave Atlas cedar).

That ‘Aurea’ means golden is easily understood when you recall that the chemical symbol for gold is Au. ‘Glauca’ means “having bloom.” Bloom is a white-grey powdery coating of wax, which can occur on the surface of leaves or fruit (such as plums). Bloom causes leaves to have a bluish-grey or bluish-green appearance, thus explaining why the common name for C. atlantica ‘Glauca’ is Blue Atlas cedar.  If you are going to purchase a specimen, be aware that the needle-like leaves of this cultivar can range in color from silvery blue to dark green, so be sure to choose the hue that you like best.

Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca’ at Morris Arboretum. Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss.

‘Green Wave’ deserves a paragraph of its own because it is a cultivar that originated as a witches’ broom (a genetically altered branch) on a 100-year-old C. atlantica ‘Glauca’ (1932-0303*A) growing at Morris Arboretum! ‘Green Wave’ is remarkable for its sculpted form and dwarf habit; it grows only 3-6 inches per year to reach an ultimate height of 4 feet. Species C. atlantica can grow to 60 feet!

Cedrus atlantica ‘Aurea’ is particularly easy to find at Morris Arboretum because it is located adjacent to the Katsura tree. You can find the exact locations of any of the Atlas cedars on the Arboretum’s Collection Connection. Luckily, these massive and long-lived trees are being conserved in botanical gardens as they are endangered in their native habitats.

Fun fact:  You will not find decorations made of cedar cones because female cedar cones disintegrate on the bough, dispersing their seeds to the wind, rather than falling intact to the ground.


Katherine has her Certificate in Botany from the New York Botanical Garden and is a botanical tour guide and free-lance writer.