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The Cedar of Lebanon

The cemetery was designed around an old Cedar of Lebanon, but it succumbed to fungus and has been replaced

Nobody knew how old was the Cedar of Lebanon once at the heart of Highgate Cemetery, but the best guess was at least 250 years.  It became a stunning landscape feature when the Cemetery was laid out around it in 1837-8. 

But in August 2019 this grand old tree reached the end of its time and had to be removed. The tree experts rated it as ‘high risk’, having a high potential of catastrophic collapse and posing a risk to both persons and property. 

"We didn't want to believe the report," said Dr Ian Dungavell, Chief Executive of the Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust. "Although it had suffered from snow and lightning, it was by far the most important tree in the Cemetery, and we had been doing everything to keep it well."

However, significant decay had been detected in each of the three main stems. And one of them had a fungus, Laetiporus sulphureus, which degrades the lignin within the timber and causes brown cubical rot, making it prone to brittle and unpredictable failure.  Worse, the southern of two fused vertical twin-stems, which was structurally supporting the south-western portion of the crown (about half of the entire crown), was predominantly dead. 

"We went through it very carefully, stem-by-stem, but the conclusions were inescapable," he said. "Around 25,000 people walk beneath that tree every year. And it sits on top of a large Grade 1-listed structure, the 'Lebanon Catacombs', which themselves contain quite a number of burials in fragile, lead-lined coffins. A collapse would have been horrific."

The old tree featured in numerous images of the cemetery, and Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson were seen picnicking underneath it in the film Hampstead (2017). 

The removal recorded on film

As seen in 2019