Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

The Bermuda Cedar


Director of Agriculture, Bermuda

*This article relates to a territory that is relatively very small in area but the story gives an interesting picture of how energetic action, in contrast to apathy, can overcome the effects of deforestation, even though the latter has occurred from natural causes. The article has been published in World Crops (London), and appears in Unasylva by permission of the Editor of that monthly publication.

THE islands of Bermuda situated east of the main current of the Gulf Stream in the western Atlantic, between 32° 14' and 32° 23'N latitude and 64° 38' and 64° 53' W longitude, can only claim 17 endemic land plants. Of these 17 species, by far the most important is the Bermuda cedar, Juniperus bermudiana L. There are, of course, many hundreds of species of plants found growing throughout Bermuda, but, apart from the 17 essentially Bermudan plants, all the others are found in parts of the southern United States and the West Indies or have been introduced to the colony by the hands of man from many sections of the world.

For centuries the Bermuda cedar has been the dominant tree and, although live trees of the species are relatively small in numbers at the present time, the author believes that natural reafforestation of the Bermuda cedar will take place again in certain undisturbed areas. In the sheltered and more fertile valleys the trees of this juniper grew into reasonably good-sized specimens, measuring in the region of 24 inches in diameter and reaching a height of 50 feet or more. On the hillsides and areas having little soil, fully exposed to the Atlantic winds, the trees were much smaller and many of these in such locations can only be classified as scrub cedar. Between these extremes, however, trees of various sizes are seen standing closely together over a large part of the land area. It is estimated that in some of the thickly wooded parts there were approximately 500 trees to the acre. In other places there were perhaps only 100 trees, making an average of between 200 and 300 cedars per acre.

Bermudan development

This thick coverage of trees provided excellent windbreaks and in many cases the dwelling houses were completely hidden from view to passers-by on the public roads. In this connection it is of particular interest to note how the development of Bermuda took place within a forest of juniper trees. It would indeed be difficult to find a similar development anywhere else, with trees standing so close together in the immediate vicinity of the towns and dwellings. Admittedly with so many trees of the same species the effect may have been termed 'dull', nevertheless the cedar provided good light shade and the grass grew freely underneath the trees. This species of juniper is particularly well adapted to the shallow nature of the Bermuda calcareous soils and is able to withstand the wind in exposed positions, hence its great value as primary windbreaks for the protection of the more tender vegetation such as fruit, vegetables and the choice ornamental plants. In addition to these useful qualities, the trees gave each dwelling the desired amount of privacy without many extra plantings of other trees and shrubs. Extreme care was taken to preserve the cedar trees, because they definitely formed the background of the Bermudan landscape. A person building a house on a new site would fell just sufficient trees to make room for the house to be erected, with a narrow clearance to be used as a driveway from the road to the residence. The garden would therefore be formed quickly by leaving all the remaining trees and mowing the grass between them. This gave a neat and tidy appearance with ample privacy, protection from the wind and good shade during the hot summer months. Comparatively little effort was required to develop a garden along these lines. In the case of the arable land, the trees were cleared from areas where sufficient depth of soil was found for the cultivation of vegetables and other crops, but the cedars were carefully preserved round the edges of the small fields for the reasons already indicated.


The foregoing gives some idea of the landscape of Bermuda when the author first set foot on Bermudan soil 17 years ago. Today a very different story is presented, which will be related below. It is of interest at this stage to delve a little into the history of Bermuda, for the cedar tree has figured prominently in the writings of the colony's historians. When Bermuda was colonized in 1610 the islands were obviously very heavily wooded with Juniperus bermudiana. Great numbers of the trees were felled for shipbuilding, and much of it was used as fuel.

By 1627 a law was enacted with the preservation of the cedar trees as its object, but the felling of the trees was undoubtedly continued and little thought given to reafforestation. Early in the eighteenth century wood was being imported for the building of houses and ships. Much of the land at that time must have been denuded of trees, as evidenced by a correspondent in the Bermuda Gazette in 1786, who wrote:

"All these hills and valleys, which were once so beautifully adorned with thriving cedar and which were the admiration of strangers, are now naked and barren wildernesses quite stripped of their pride."

The absence of any references to a general reafforestation scheme leads one to believe that no attempt was made to reafforest the denuded areas, but natural reafforestation did in actual fact take place.

Juniperus bermudiana is a typical juniper; its nearest relatives are J. virginiana and J. silicicola, both of the southeastern U.S.A. It produces an abundance of seed in most years. The seed will take from three to six months, or even longer, to germinate, moisture being the controlling factor. Growth in the initial stages is slow. During the first 10 years of the life of the tree it makes on an average one foot of growth per year. The actual length of life of this cedar has never been accurately determined. One very large tree in the grounds of St. Peter's Church, St. George's, was estimated to be 200 years old when it died a few years ago. A tree measuring 24 inches in diameter was known to be 85 years old because the date of planting was carefully recorded. This tree, however, died during the last five years. Death was attributed to scale insects.

The wood of the tree is generally very knotty, due to its branching habits. It is too irregular in the grain to be of any use as pencil slats. Tests have showed resistance to cutting to be about 14 percent higher than that of J. virginiana and about equal to that of J. procera. It was tested as pit props, but the wood was found to be too brittle and to break suddenly without warning. Locally the wood is used extensively for furniture making and the manufacture of souvenirs for sale to the tourists. The finished article is highly polished and the reddish-brown hue of the wood adds dignity to the home in which it is used. Considerable quantities of the cedar wood are consumed annually during the winter months for burning in open fire grates to warm the houses during the cool evenings from December to April.

Insect pests

The insect pests of the Bermuda juniper were fully covered in a paper by Waterston (Trop. Agric., Trin., 26, Nos. 1-6, 1949). Waterston lists some 20 destructive insects recorded on the Bermuda cedar up to April 1947. The most important of these pests are the juniper scale (Carulaspis visci) and the oystershell scale (Lepidosaphes newsteadi), both of which were accidentally imported to Bermuda presumably on nursery stock from the United States.

Before the beginning of the twentieth century the Bermuda cedar appeared to be remarkably free from insect pests. This fact is gathered from the writings of A. E. Verrill (The Bermuda Islands, 1902), who remarked: "The cedar appears to be very little affected by insects." With the advent of more travel to the colony by ship and latterly by air, and a flourishing tourist trade, many thousands of visitors have passed through the colony since the beginning of the present century. This leads to a greater interest being taken in the introduction of new plant life hitherto unknown to Bermuda and with these plants insects obviously come also.

Damage to the cedar trees by insect attack was periodically reported and by 1930 isolated areas of the trees were obviously suffering from insect damage.

A scale insect identified as Acutaspis perseae was named as the cause at that time. In 1935, two species of mites were reported causing a swelling to the tips of the twigs. An aphid was later on proved to be causing the yellowing of the foliage. Before 1944, few trees had actually died through insect infestation, but in that year trees began dying at an alarming rate, when two new scale insects were found to be causing the death of the trees. The oyster-shell scale was found in the Tuckers Town area at the eastern end of the island and the juniper scale in the parish of Paget in the central part of the colony. These two scale insects spread very rapidly and in the early stages of the attack trees were dead within six months of attack. These insects attack the foliage and the berries, causing rapid defoliation.

From the two original infestations the scales spread in all directions. At the time of writing 90 percent of the trees in the colony are dead. The few remaining live trees are in poor health. but seedling trees in certain areas appear to be in good condition.

Chemical control of the scale insects by spraying was attempted when the cause of the trouble was determined but spraying large areas of forest trees, within the type of development which had taken place in Bermuda, was impracticable and this form of control was eventually abandoned in favor of biological control.

Biological control

In 1947, the Commonwealth Institute of Biological Control was called in to assist in the problem. Dr. W. R. Thompson, Director of the Institute, spent some months in the colony in 1947 to advise on the possibility of introducing beneficial insects to control the two scale insects causing the death of the cedar trees. From 1947 to 1953, the Commonwealth Institute of Biological Control worked vigorously on the problem. During that period some eight species of coccinellids (ladybird beetles) were introduced to the colony from various parts of the world. The Bermuda Government provided funds for the building of a laboratory in California for the purpose of breeding predators and parasites for shipment to Bermuda. The laboratory of the Department of Agriculture in Bermuda was completely rebuilt to house equipment for breeding these coccinellid beetles. During 1949 and 1950 a staff of nine people were employed in the rearing work of the coccinellids for ultimate liberation on the cedar trees. In order to provide food for the coccinellids the oleander scale, Pseudaulacaspis pentagona, was raised on potato tubers.

Despite the energetic action of the Director of the Commonwealth Institute of Biological Control and his staff, the destructive work of the scale insects continued.

Although the oystershell scale eventually disappeared, assumed to be controlled by a parasitic fungus disease, the juniper scale spread over the entire islands. Trees in the most westerly parish of Sandys were the last to be attacked. It is thought that, if biological control could have been introduced shortly after the destructive scale insects had been identified, more trees might have been saved. At the time some doubt existed in the minds of the entomologists working on the problem that Lepidosaphes newsteadi and Carulaspis visci could cause the death of these cedar trees. The same scale insects are known in several parts of the world including Europe and America, but no known records of these scales having killed large trees existed. The author has seen juniper trees in the southeastern United States quite heavily infested with the juniper scale, but the trees did not appear to be suffering. Admittedly, the natural enemies of the scales were present in reasonable numbers and it is assumed that the parasites and predators kept the scale at a sufficiently low level to prevent serious damage to the trees. That is what it was hoped to achieve in Bermuda by biological methods. It is for this reason that the author believes that the young Bermuda cedars now growing in parts of the colony will thrive and develop into mature trees. The juniper scale is likely to remain in the colony as a potential source of danger to juniper trees, but the natural enemies will, it is hoped, hold it in check.

The changing scene

Due to the loss of 90 percent of the local cedar trees caused by these scale insects, the Bermuda Board of Agriculture initiated a General Reafforestation Scheme in 1949. In June 1952 the Reafforestation Compulsory Powers Act was passed, which gave the Board of Agriculture power to remove all dead cedar trees within 50 feet on either side of a public road and to replant the cleared areas with suitable trees at Government expense. This Act has recently been amended to take care of all Government lands, an additional 50 feet on either side of the public roads, all golf courses and the islands in the Hamilton Harbour.

The full significance of the loss of the cedar trees to Bermuda can be quickly realized by anyone who knows anything about the tourist trade. Bermuda's chief source of income is derived from the tourist industry and since the second world war the number of tourists visiting the colony has gradually risen from 40,000 annually to over 100,000 in 1954. It is due to the importance of the tourist industry that the Government set out on a vigorous program to remove the dead trees, in the first instance from the most conspicuous places, and to start replanting with a much larger variety of plants.

Such a program involves considerable sums of public money and cannot be achieved quickly. It is a comparatively simple task to fell the dead trees, but other problems present themselves in connection with the disposal of the wood salvaged from these operations. Furthermore, the propagation of suitable trees, shrubs and palms for the planting of about 180 miles of road, government lands and supplying trees for numerous private estates is no small undertaking. Because of the severe winds which sweep the colony it is essential to try to establish good windbreaks with hardy plants, which calls for very large stocks of the right material. Considerable losses of plants have been experienced due to wind and occasional droughts. Again, due to the flourishing tourist trade, there is relatively no unemployment and it is therefore difficult to obtain adequate suitable labor for this reafforestation scheme. To aggravate the position further the whole conception of landscape gardening has had to be changed, because the cedar no longer forms the background to the gardens. Despite all of these difficulties, good progress has been made and the areas which were planted in 1950 are beginning to show up to advantage.

The changing scene seems to describe aptly the gradual change which is taking place, for the loss of the native tree and the work involved in repairing the damage may be likened to the seasonal changes of summer, autumn, winter and spring. The period before 1945, when the whole colony was clothed with a beautiful green canopy provided by the cedar trees, depicted the summer season. Autumn followed throughout the period 1945-50, when large areas of the trees turned brown and died due to the scale infestation, casting a gray-purplish hue over the hillsides. From 1950-55 the winter prevailed, when large areas of the countryside denuded of trees and many dead trees still standing presented a very desolate winter-like appearance. Finally, it is visualized that, as a result of our efforts, aided by nature, to fell the dead trees and replant the denuded areas with young trees, the period 1955-60 will be the springtime when it is hoped the whole countryside will commence to bloom again, thereby completing the gradual change from a landscape mainly comprised of one type of tree to a scene in which a variety of trees, shrubs and palms will dominate the landscape.

Use of cedar wood

It is estimated that only 25 percent of the trees felled produce sound timber. A considerable number of them are less than 12 inches in diameter, many have hollow trunks, others have large sections of decayed wood in the trunks, resulting in a considerable amount of material which is only fit for use as firewood. There is a steady demand for sound timber for local consumption and, of course, fair quantities of firewood are used during the winter months. Even so, an enormous quantity of branches and unsound trunks are burnt on the site during the felling operations. To the conservationist this appears to be an abominable waste of a material which might have a potential market value. The cedar wood has a great appeal to most people when it is used for furniture making because of its very pleasing color. The numerous knots throughout the boards add considerably to its attractiveness.

With these factors in mind and the large annual government expense involved in maintaining the reafforestation scheme, the Bermuda Government has been exploring the possibility of converting this waste material into a saleable commodity. A firm of research engineers of California was called in to carry out some research work on this waste material. It was found that all the material now being burnt on the site of the felling operations, including the thin branches, could be converted into compressed boards of very pleasing design and color. The finished product apparently has a great variety of uses in the form of wall panelling, door making, floor tiling, coffee tables and similar pieces of furniture. The research engineer who carried out the work reported most favorably on the results. The finished product has excellent coloring, is far superior to and much more beautiful in appearance than any other wood on which he has worked.

In simple language, the general process is to pass the raw timber, including the branches, through a machine which breaks the wood into various-sized chips. The dust is sifted out, so, likewise, is decayed material by passing the chips over various sieves. These chips are next placed in trays, where certain plastic binders are added. Under high pressure the chips are glued together, forming boards of varying thickness, from ¼ to 5/8 The compressed boards may be used with a rough surface or, if required, a polished surface can be quickly obtained by applying a coat of filler to the surface and passing it through a sanding machine. This gives a very highly polished surface. The finished product is sound in every respect and will remain in good condition even in humid climates similar to that experienced in Bermuda. In addition to these compressed boards, very satisfactory sawn veneers can be made by gluing the veneer to the compressed board. This then gives a surface identical to the articles made of solid cedar and has great appeal. The research work proved beyond doubt that the waste cedar wood can be converted into a valuable commodity, but what of the economics?


To manufacture this product in Bermuda would mean setting up a completely new plant and to do this a capital expenditure of some £70,000 would be required. Before making a decision whether to proceed with the scheme or not, the Bermuda Government naturally wishes to be reasonably certain that, if this product is manufactured in the colony, a suitable market for such a commodity does in actual fact exist and that the price at which the product can be sold would give a reasonable return. Another factor which has to be taken into consideration is that only about 5,000 acres of trees would be available for this project. Is this sufficient for the capital expenditure involved? The engineer who conducted the research work feels that with such a highly valued product it would be well worth while financially to tackle vigorously the project immediately.

Bermuda, having a land area of 20 square miles, and a population of some 37,000 cannot afford to speculate on a project unless it is reasonably certain it will produce a return on the investment. Again, there is relatively no unemployment and labor is difficult to obtain, especially for this type of specialized work. The Government reafforestation scheme is costing approximately £60,000 per annum, and at the present rate of progress at least another five years will be required to complete the work.

As Bermuda is not able to manufacture the machinery and plastic binders required for the project, a considerable proportion of the estimated cost of the scheme would be spent on the importation of these items The market for the finished product would obviously be overseas, involving considerable expense in shipping charges and port handling. This, together with the high cost of Bermuda labor, would naturally increase the cost of production to a point where it might not be an economic proposition to convert the waste cedar into this compressed wood. Investigations are proceeding on the possibilities of marketing the commodity at a profitable price.



27 May - 2 June


Sub-Commission on Mediterranean Forestry Problems


Argentina Latin-American Poplar Conference

17-30 October


Technical Conference on Eucalypts


14-25 January


Technical Conference on Insulation, Hard-and Particle-Boards

Date not confirmed


Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission (4th session)



European. Forestry Commission (9th session)



Near East Forestry Commission (2nd session)



Latin-American Forestry Commission (6th session)



International Poplar commission



FAO/ECE Committee on Forest Working Techniques and Training of Forest Workers



Ninth Session of the FAO Conference

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page