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The Majestic Cedar
by Swapna Dutta

"Cedar” is the common name for a number of evergreen trees that grow on the mountains. It belongs to the pine family. The juniper is often called the ‘red cedar’, the arborvitae which belongs to the cypress family is called the ‘white cedar’ and what is commonly known as the ‘yellow cedar’ is actually Chamaecyparis nootkatensis. Some trees that belong to the mahogany family are called cedar too.

Cedar is also known by other names such as, the Atlas cedar, the Cyprus cedar, the deodar, the Himalayan cedar and the cedar of Lebanon which appears in the Lebanese flag. According to legend, the house of King Solomon was built with cedar wood.

There is an interesting Cherokee legend about why the cedar tree was created. The Cherokees are an aboriginal tribe in America. The story goes that when they were first created there was no night on earth. It was just one long day. It also meant a lot of work! Very soon the people were tired and begged the creator to give them a long night instead. The creator agreed and gave them a night without end. It was very cold and no crops grew. The people spent all their time gathering firewood. Many of them got hurt in the dark. This time they prayed for both day and night which the creator granted again. But a lot of people had already died either because they were cold or because they were hungry or because they were hurt. So God created the cedar tree where he placed the spirits of the dead people. That is how it became a very special tree for them, one that protected them from all evil.

Cedars are tall trees with large trunks and massive heads of spreading branches. The young trees have smooth, dark-gray barks that become brown and scaly with age. The leaves are stiff and needlelike. They are scattered along the long shoots in clusters. The leaves remain on the tree for three to six years. The cedar tree has large, barrel-shaped, cones, greenish or purplish in color, on short stalks. These are covered with broad, thin, woody scales. They often grow to a height of 100 feet or more. Like pine, cedar also has needles that grow in clusters. Each cluster may have as many as 30 needles.

Cedar wood has been in great demand from a very long time.

One reason is because the cedar tree is very sturdy and can stand up to all kinds of weather. Cedar wood is light, soft, and lasts for a long time. It does not get spoiled even when it is left in a damp place. It is rarely troubled by insects or pests. The wood has a pleasant smell. It has a soft, pretty color and it is easy to work with.

People use cedar wood for buildings in places where they grow. But it is also used for making furniture and many other things. Cedar wood oil is used for making perfumes, paints, and other toilet items. The leaves, bark and wood of the Himalayan cedar is used for making several herbal medicines. Some of these are said to be very effective for treating digestive disorders, fever and ulcers. But because it is so beautiful it is often grown as just an ornamental tree.              

Image courtesy: hauszeder.de

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1-Jan-2006
 
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