You know how it can be with children. Time slides past with such deceptive ease you don’t notice they’ve been changing under your very nose, until one day you suddenly see they’ve become adults. It’s the same thing with Bermuda cedars. Ridiculous though it may seem, I’ve only just realised that we actually have fully grown cedar trees all over the island, making the word “cedar” in house and place names apposite rather than nostalgic.
Cedar Avenue does now have tall cedars edging it. And there are other avenues, or more precisely stretches of road, lined with cedars—by Death Valley Playground in Southampton, for example, on the top third of Horseshoe Road and along the western end of Spittal Pond. Particularly lovely are the tall trees lining the lane up to Windy Bank Farm in Smith’s Parish which were planted some thirty years ago. There are cedar groves, too, even mini forests, such as can be seen on the slope at Fort Scaur Park facing Ely’s Harbour. There you can capture the feeling of what it must have been like when Bermuda was covered islandwide with these lovely, dusky, dark green trees.
When I first came to the island nearly 50 years ago, I didn’t see a cedar on Cedar Avenue at all. And in other parts of the island the adult trees most obvious to me were all introduced, or to be rude, invasive, the casuarina with its spindly needles being the most ubiquitous. Of course, the reason for Bermuda’s dearth of cedars was soon explained to me. Mike’s Aunt Pink often talked of the blight caused by two scale insects which started to decimate the trees in the mid-1940s and finished most of them off by 1953. The casuarinas in her garden, she explained, were planted during the 1950s as poor, but at the time welcome, replacements for the cedars it once had. I was introduced to the cedar skeletons in Hogs Bay Park, a natural memorial, and also to a few individual trees in churchyards and gardens that had managed to survive the blight. But on the whole, the most Bermuda cedar I saw was in the form of a piece of craftmanship—an aromatic cedar chest, for instance, or a beautifully crafted door. However, sapling cedars, or rather junipers (it was also explained to me that Bermuda endemic cedars are not cedars at all—they are Juniperus bermudiana) were definitely being planted in 1973. “Plant a tree in 73,” the slogan went and “Plant one more in 74.” And so I became used to little saplings being planted in gardens and public spaces over the years, paying little attention to them as time wore on and not taking in that they would reach maturity after 25 years or so.
What I didn’t know was that during the 1940s and 1950s J. D. C. Darrell and Reeve Smith introduced two other junipers, similar to ours but scale resistant. Now it’s true, purists can tell the difference between them and “ours.” My friend Alison, for example, is very rude about Darrell’s cedar, saying forthrightly, there’s no way it’s Bermudian. But many people can’t differentiate at all. Adding to the problem, our indigenous cedars are hybridising with Darrell’s and Smith’s so that their seedlings are not as completely Bermudian as they are. Appreciating as I do the new generation of maturing cedars and the texture they’re adding to our scenery, I have to admit I’m not always certain as to which species is which. Do I care? Frankly, no. I love the way clusters of cedars are now highly visible in gardens. They all look beautiful to me and infinitely preferable to casuarinas.
Still, I have to admit there is one authentic and massive Bermuda cedar entirely worthy of national pride: the one gracing Old Devonshire Churchyard. Author and historian John Cox says he was aware of it being old and special when he was a teenager in 1968. Fifty years earlier, Nathanial Lord Britton may have referred to it as being ancient in his Flora of Bermuda. It certainly looks ancient today. And its hefty trunk evokes our shipbuilding years when teredo-resistant Bermuda cedar was highly prized for planking. Needing no seasoning, it could be used immediately after cutting. Certainly, this beautiful tree is visually symbolic of our maritime heritage. Look at its wide branches and foliage and you might see, as I do, the shape of a three-masted ship setting out to sea, resplendently Bermudian in full sail.