The shoots are dimorphic, with long shoots and short shoots. The leaves are needle-like, spaced out on the long shoots, and in clusters of 15-45 on the short shoots; they are 5–30 mm (1⁄4–1 3⁄16 in) in length, quadrangular in cross-section, and vary from green to glaucous blue-green with stomatal bands on all four sides. The seed cones are produced often every second year, and mature in 12 months from pollination; mature cones in late autumn are 8–12 cm (3–4 3⁄4 in) long and 4–6 cm (1 1⁄2–2 3⁄8 in) wide.
Cedrus libani was first classified by the French botanist Achille Richard. There are two varieties:
Some botanists also classify the Cyprus Cedar (Cedrus brevifolia) and Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica) as subspecies of C. libani. However, a majority of the modern sources consider them distinct species.
In Lebanon and Turkey it occurs most abundantly at altitudes of 1,000-2,000 m (3,300–6,500 ft), where it forms pure forests or mixed forests with Cilician Fir (Abies cilicica), European Black Pine (Pinus nigra), and several juniper (Juniperus) species. On Cyprus, it occurs at 1,000-1,525 m (3,300–5,000 ft) (reaching the summit of Mount Paphos). In the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, it occurs at 1,370–2,200 m (4,500–7,200 ft) in pure forests or mixed with Abies species and Juniperus thurifera.
The Cedar of Lebanon was important to various ancient civilizations. The trees were used by the Phoenicians for building commercial and military ships, as well as houses, palaces, and temples. The ancient Egyptians used its resin in mummification, and its sawdust has been found in the tombs of Egyptian Pharaohs. The Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh designates the cedar groves of Lebanon as the dwelling of the gods to which Gilgamesh, the hero, ventured. Hebrew priests were ordered by Moses to use the bark of the Lebanon Cedar in circumcision and the treatment of leprosy. The Hebrew prophet Isaiah used the Lebanon Cedar as a metaphor for the pride of the world. According to the Talmud, Jews once burned Lebanese cedar wood on the Mount of Olives to celebrate the new year. Foreign rulers from both near and far would order the wood for religious and civil constructs, the most famous of which are King Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem and David's and Solomon's Palaces. Because of its significance the word Cedar is mentioned 76 times in the Bible, and played a pivotal role in the cementing of the Phoenician-Hebrew relationship. Beyond that, it was also used by Romans, Greeks, Persians, Assyrians and Babylonians. In the late Ottoman period cedar wood was used in the building of railways, and the wood was also cut and used by the British during World War II.
Over the centuries, extensive deforestation has occurred, with only small remnants of the original forests surviving. Deforestation has been particularly severe in Lebanon and on Cyprus; on Cyprus, only small trees up to tall survive, though Pliny the Elder recorded cedars tall there. Extensive reforestation of cedar is carried out in the Mediterranean region, particularly Turkey, where over 50 million young cedars are being planted annually. The Lebanese populations are also now expanding through a combination of replanting and protection of natural regeneration from browsing by goats, hunting, forest fires, and woodworms.
Historically, there were various attempts at conserving the Lebanon Cedars. The first was made by the Roman Emperor Hadrian, who issued a decree protecting parts of the Cedars of Lebanon in CE 118. In the Middle Ages, the Mamluk Caliphs also made an attempt at conserving the Cedars and regulating their use, followed by the Maronite Patriarch Yusuf Hbaych, who placed them under his protection in 1832. In 1876, Britain's Queen Victoria financed a wall to protect the Cedars of God (near Bsharri) from the ravages of goat herding.
The Lebanon Cedar is the national emblem of Lebanon, and is displayed on the Lebanese flag and Coat of Arms. It is also the logo of Middle East Airlines (MEA), which is Lebanon's national carrier. Beyond that, it is also the main symbol of Lebanon's "Cedar Revolution", along with many Lebanese political parties and movements, such as the Kataeb (Phalange), the Lebanese Forces, the National Liberal Party, and the Future Movement. Finally, Lebanon is sometimes euphemistically referred to as the Land of the Cedars.
As a result of long exploitation, few old trees remain in Lebanon, but there is now an active program to conserve and regenerate the forests. The Lebanese approach has emphasized natural regeneration rather than planting, and this by creating the right conditions. The Lebanese state has created several Cedar Reserves or nature reserves that contain cedars, including the Chouf Cedar Reserves, the Jaj Cedar Reserve, the Tannourine Reserve, the Ammouaa and Karm Shbat Reserves in the Akkar district, and the Forest of the Cedars of God near Bcharri. Extensive replanting is taking place in Turkey, where approximately of cedar are planted annually.
The Lebanon Cedar is widely planted as an ornamental tree in parks and large gardens, often being planted in avenues, and as focal point trees in large lawns. The most prominent landscaping feature in London's historic Highgate Cemetery is its "Circle of Lebanon", where a Lebanon Cedar stands in the centre of a circular trench cut into the ground and lined with mausoleums.