Lacebark Trees–Species of Similarities and Contrasts

While the lacebark elm is easy to transplant, the lacebark pine requires patience.

Although a tropical tree in Australia is known as the lacebark tree, it appears to only grow in hardiness zones 9 and above, limiting its growth to warm coastal areas in the US. Two other species of tree, both from China, come in a lacebark version, the Lacebark Elm  (Ulmus parvifolia) and the Lacebark Pine (Pinus bungeana).

The elm version, also known as Chinese elm, has been introduced to much of the midsection of the United States. Although it is considered invasive in some areas, it has also been considered a good alternative to Siberian elms, which are more weedy. According to The Tree Book: Superior Selections for Landscapes, Streetscapes and Gardens (Dirr, Michael and Warren, Keith, 2019) this elm is useful in stressed environments and has been planted in parking lots, streets, and in parks. It is resistant to both Dutch elm disease and the elm leaf beetle as well as black leaf spots. Hardy from zones 5 through 10, it doesn’t drop its leaves until well into winter, and as may be expected from its name, its trunk is a major focal point when the bark exfoliates to reveal multiple colors.

Lacebark elm trunk
Lacebark elm trunk

The Tree Book features write-ups on thirteen different cultivars. Another somewhat unusual use of the species is in Bonsai. The leaves may be eaten cooked or raw and are said to have a pleasant taste which imparts freshness to one’s breath.

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The lacebark pine

While Dirr and Warren state the lacebark elm is “easy to transplant and propagate,” they report the lacebark pine grows slowly and requires patience. It was first discovered in China in 1831. Often grown on temple and palace grounds, the tree is revered and in Korea the largest trees are considered national monuments. The species may grow for 200-300 years with the oldest trees closer to 900 years of age. Often in their native habitat they reach heights of 80-100 feet.* In North America this conifer is more likely to grow to 40′ to 50′ and have multiple stems.

This three-needle pine also has bark that exfoliates in irregular pieces, giving it the appearance of a mosaic. It may not start this process until it is ten years old. Colors which may appear include green, purple, white, and grey.

Peeling bark on the lacebark pine

Although it has some resistance to diseases which attack pine trees, its wood is brittle and it may suffer damage in storms. The seeds from this plant are edible but no information has been given on how to prepare them. Turpentine extracted from this species may be used in a number of medicinal remedies, but as this tree is not abundant in the states or easy to grow, it should not be used for these purposes.

E2 Lacebark pine (Pinus bungeana) is located behind the fire station on Bryan Avenue, along the drive to the parking lot for the forestry department, next to the mugo pine.  

To find the lacebark elm (Ulmus parvifolia) E48 head to the parking lot near the ballparks. It is on a peninsula in this parking lot just about halfway between Mountain Ave and Oak Street.

*The Tree Book: Superior Selections for Landscapes, Streetscapes and Gardens (Dirr, Michael and Warren, Keith, 2019)

Mugo Pine–Little Tree, Short Post

Small tree with many names

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Mugo pine in early spring

Mugo pine (Pinus mugo), champion of the landscape? This conifer, especially in the form of its many cultivars, normally appears to be a shrub with its many trunks and shorter stature. Many sources consider it only a shrub for use in the landscape, notably in rock gardens and parks.

Other names this specimen goes by include Dwarf mountain pine, Swiss mountain pine, scrub mountain pine, knee pine (Sibley, 2009*), mugho pine, creeping pine, and all the variations in the languages of Europe.  It was given its scientific name in the 1700s. One website describes the plant growing in its native habitat in the mountains of Europe, where it may grow at heights up to 8000 feet,  by saying, “it grows low to the ground in mounds like a creature huddling against the cold winds.” According to the USDA map, the tree has been introduced to parts of the east and Canada, although its hardiness zone appears to cover most of the North American continent.

The champion tall tree, which grows in Finland, is nearly 80′ tall. This species often has multiple trunks. Monumental Trees does not include the width of more than one trunk. The tree of most girth meeting this requirement resides in the UK and is over eleven feet in circumference. No information is available about the age of mugos.

There is little unique information about this species’ edibility or medicinal use, although mention is made of a delicious Bulgarian tea brewed from the leaves. Other sources says the trees provide shelter for small animals and may help with erosion control.

To find the tall mugo (E 1) on the City Park Self-guided tour, go to the westernmost area of the park behind the fire station and near the Forestry office. This specimen was planted in 1975, making it one of the earliest planted trees on the tour. Pinus mugo is located close to the locked gate to the maintenance lot near the southern boundary to the park. A small map is shown with the mugo represented by the star. Mugo pine mapThanks for Molly T. Roche for the map

*Sibley Guide to Trees (Sibley, David Allen, 2009)

Bristlecone Pine–Cursed Tree or one That Changed History?

They are slow growers and may add as little as one 1/100 an inch of girth in a year

There are two species of bristlecone pine, both native to the southwestern United States. Pinus aristata, known as the Rocky Mountain bristlecone, hickory pine, or Colorado bristlecone, grows in the mountains of Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona.

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Bristlecone in City Park

Pinus longaeva, native to Utah, Nevada, and California, is called either Great Basin bristlecone or Intermountain bristlecone. Both species are long-lived, but the Intermountain Bristlecone holds the record as possibly the oldest living specimen on earth. At first glance the name bristlecone seems to be due to the small branches with their short, stiff leaves which cause them to look a bit like bottle brushes. A third moniker for the Colorado Bristlecone is foxtail pine due to branches resembling those of foxes.

Close up of a branch
Small branches looking somewhat like a bottle brush

Originally both species were classified as foxtail pines (Pinus balfouriana) but were reclassified in the 1800s and the two types of bristlecone were further distinguished in the the 1960s. The actual reason longaeva and aristata are called bristlecone pines is due to a bristle on the young cone.

Both species belong to the five-needled or white pine group of Pinus. In Colorado, bristlecones typically grow from an altitude of 8300 to 13000 feet (Ackerfield.**) At higher altitudes they are slow growers. According to one source  they may add as little as 1/100th of girth in a year. Often bristlecones grow with both limber pines and Engelmann spruce and sometimes near treeline with common juniper. Their seeds are tiny. Unlike most other pine species, they are winged. The trees do not produce seeds until they are between ten and forty years old, but may continue to reproduce throughout their extremely long lives. Most references mention these evergreens retain their needles for many years, with one article stating the needles may persist for decades. Often the needles are sprinkled with white resin spots, making the tree look like it has suffered a case of dandruff.

Bristlecone closeup
Close up of a branchlet of a bristlecone pine

When discussing edibility or medicinal use of the bristlecone, sources such as Edible & Medicinal Plants of the Rockies (Kershaw, Linda, 2000) and Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West (Moore, Michael, 2003) tend to lump them in with other five-needled pines. Both sources mention pine needle teas to enjoy or use for coughs and fevers. Both sources warn an excess of the tea may be detrimental, especially to pregnant women. Pines may also provide resin and be used for firewood, although in national parks, all bristlecone pines are protected.

Dirr and Warren* mention the bristlecone for the landscape, especially in dry areas with poor soil. They do need full sun and are usually sold as cultivars. In the yard they may have the look of whimsical holiday trees. At higher altitudes they have the appearance of large pieces of misplaced driftwood.

Although Pinus aristata has evolved numerous survival mechanisms, and the ability to adapt to hardships may be part of the secret to its longevity, climate change may be playing a part in new dangers to these old trees. In the early 2000s, bristlecone pines were documented to have died from mountain pine beetle infestations. White pine blister rust and dwarf mistletoe are also known to endanger these long-lived trees.

A Pinus longaeva specimen known as Prometheus was counted as nearing 4900 years when it was cut down by graduate student Don Currey. There are various stories about how exactly this tree was destroyed with the exact facts in dispute.  A full reckonning of the acrimony and confusion surrounding the Great Basin bristlecone pine designated as WPN-114 has many facets of today’s fights about climate change. To make the death of this tree a greater tragedy, when the pith of the tree was sent to the University of Arizona’s Laboratory of Tree Ring Research after Don Currey’s death, a more precise dating of the tree was determined. Now some estimate Prometheus may have been 5100 years old. 

In a piece developed for Radiolab, the hosts play a recording of Don Currey telling part of the story of WPN-114’s demise. The piece on Prometheus begins around 15:00 minutes. Although interesting, there appears to be at least one mistake in the update. Prometheus lived in the Snake Mountains in what is now Great Basin National Park, while the White Mountains and the disputed new oldest tree is in California. 

In 2014 the artist Jeff Weiss produced an exhibit, or as he calls it “a thing,” to mark the 50th anniversary of the cutting down of this great tree. (There is a film about this “thing” discussing the history of the tree and the art; the story starts around 9:48. Although the information is overall interesting, there are a lot of extraneous comments.)

Another Pinus longaeva, Methuselah, is a mere fifty years younger and still living. And a third, even older tree is rumored to have been located by the same man (Edmund Shulman) who found Methuselah, but this has not been verified. The tree is said to be living in an undisclosed area of the White Mountains and was 5067 years old in 2019. The oldest Rocky Mountain bristlecone, which is located in Colorado, is a mere 2436 (in 2020) years of age. 

According to the Gymnosperm Database, the largest specimen of Pinus aristata is located in New Mexico. The tree may be of dwarf stature at high elevations but may reach 40′ at lower altitudes. The 2018 champion tree in Colorado was found in the San Isabel forest and reached a height of 59′, about twenty feet higher than the next candidate. Lower altitude trees may not reach the great ages of their counterparts closer to treelike. They may become victims of heart-rot, decreasing their longevity to around 300 years.

Bristlecone bark
Bark of the Rocky Mountain Bristlecone Pine

The Rocky Mountain bristlecone’s relative, the Great Basin bristlecone pine has also played a part in calibrating carbon dating techniques and helped correct the historical record. This was done by overlapping tree ring patterns from living tree core samples and intact patterns of deadwood. This technique has enabled dendrochronologists, archeologists, and historians to examine climatic and other patterns over 10,000 years and has earned the Intermountain bristlecone pine the moniker the Tree that Rewrote History.  Here is a link to a  2009  poetic documentary, The Oldest Tree on Earth: The Curse of the Methuselah Tree. It includes a clip of Don Currey discussing the cutting of Prometheus and information from the person who claims to have found an even older specimen.

The curse of the bristlecones implies those who touch/cut the trees will have brief lives. Edmund Shulman who cored Methuselah in the 1950s died at 49, while a 32-year-old Forest Service employ who helped carry a slab of Prometheus off the mountain suffered  a heart attack on the way down and died. Currey, who one would assume would be the most cursed, died at 70, diminishing the likelihood of a curse in my mind. A highly recommended 2020 New Yorker article by Alex Ross, “The Past and Future of the Earth’s Oldest Trees,” discusses the curse, dendrochronology, the controversy over the bristlecone’s possible submission to climate change, and other aspects of this species.

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Colorado Bristlecone pine hiding amongst the spruces.

To find C170 Pinus aristata in City Park, go to the intersection of Mulberry Street and Sheldon Drive. On the northeast corner is a small grove of trees including some spruce and deciduous trees. The shortest of the conifers should be the Colorado Bristlecone pine. Last I  looked, I did not see its tag. This tree was planted in 1978 when it had a diameter of eight inches.

 

 

 

 

*The Tree Book:Superior Selections for Landscapes, Streetscapes, and Gardens (Dirr, Michael and Warren, Keith, 2019)

**Flora of Colorado (Ackerfield, Jennifer, 2015)

 

 

Arizona Cypress: Drought Tolerant or a Fine Specimen Christmas Tree?

Its retained cones look like jingle bells

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An opened cone with another closed

Continue reading “Arizona Cypress: Drought Tolerant or a Fine Specimen Christmas Tree?”

A Rare Evergreen with a lot of Names: the Modoc Cypress

Modoc Cypress is listed as Vulnerable.

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The Modoc Cypress.

Modoc cypress does not have a widespread natural range and is found naturally only in northern California and southern Oregon. At least one source calls this species the northernmost and hardiest of its genus, but its need for sunlight and susceptibility to fire seem to contradict the hardiness designation.

In 1898 this species was discovered in Modoc County, California by the botanist Milo Samuel Baker, an important collector and teacher during the early years of the last century. Not only is this tree known as Baker Cypress, Modoc Cypress, or Siskiyou Cypress but there appears to be controversy as to its scientific name. Proposed Latin names are Callitropsis bakeri, Hesperocyparis bakeri, Cupressus macnabiana, or Neocupressus bakeri. The second name is currently used in the USDA plants database. The nomenclature used on the tree tour map and often on the web, is a fifth destination, Cupresses bakeri, one of the older names given in the Gymnosperm Database.

Modoc Cypress is listed in Threatened Conifers of the World and on the Red List as Vulnerable. This may have to do with fire suppression practices as the cones do not normally open to spread seed unless subjected to heat, but the tree can be susceptible to fire damage. The thin, curling bark of the younger trees may also be detrimental in a forest fire. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe reproduction cycle of this species is discussed on the above site. When the small, hard cones open, the seed is distributed by wind or rain.

Modoc detail
Cone and leaves of the Modoc Cypress

The tree may grow to fifty feet, but as one nursery website put it, “not in your lifetime, maybe your kids or grand kids.” No tree of this species is listed in Champion Trees, but the Gymnosperm Database lists a specimen in Oregon at 127′ as being the biggest known.

Although there is some information about the medicinal use of cypress, it is also classified as a neurotoxin and is often associated with death. The same website mentions some species are planted in church yards and cemeteries. In the correct dosage some species of cypress may have medicinal and cosmetic properties, but no specific mention is made of the Modoc Cypress.

In City Park Modoc Cypress (D197) may be found near the frog sculptures, closer to Sheldon Drive. To me the cypresses can be identified by a hazy aura around them, probably an illusion from their interesting leaves.

 

 

 

 

 

Is Your Brain Better than a Bark Beetle’s? Are You Able to distinguish the Jeffrey Pine from a Ponderosa?

The Jeffrey pine was named after a Scottish botanist in 1852

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Jeffrey pine planted in 1996

Jeffrey pines (Pinus jeffreyi) are native to Nevada, California, and Oregon. Ponderosa and Jeffrey pine are easily confused and their lumber is often bundled with that of lodgepole pine and sold as PP/LP. Although first regarded as the same species as Ponderosa pine, they vary genetically. The tree was named after the Scottish botanist John Jeffrey in 1852. Apparently Mr. Jeffrey disappeared without a trace while searching for plants.

Two ways to distinguish the two species is by bark color and smell. Ponderosas are said to have an orange tinge while the bark of the Jeffrey is reddish. Some  say Ponderosas smell like pine while its look-alike has an odor described as vanilla, pineapple, or butterscotch!

Another way to tell Jeffrey and Ponderosa apart is by the size of the cone, with Jeffrey cones usually larger. Plants of Southern California (Strong, Tom and Chester, Jane) include several charts for comparison, as well as this thought: If bark beetles, with brains smaller than your thumbnail, can tell the difference between ponderosa and Jeffrey pines, with a little attention humans ought to be able to do the same. (:-) Numerous sites warn of a dangerous difference between the two conifers. The resin of most pine trees can be used to make turpentine. Alike other conifers,  Jeffrey pines contain an explosive chemical, n-heptane. Before the two trees were known to be separate species, the use of Jeffrey pine ended up causing inexplicable explosions. 

 

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The long needles of the Jeffrey pine.

 

The Gymnosperm Database lists a Jeffrey pine in California as being at least 813 years old. The tallest tree, found in Dec. 2010 in the Trinity Alps of California, is over 206 feet tall. The second tallest Pinus jeffreyi is also located in California.

Jeffrey pines produce winged seeds. The seeds are heavy, and although wind does move them, it usually isn’t far from the parent tree. Chipmunks and Clarks Nutcrackers also disperse the seeds. The US Forest Service reported a small study of the chipmunks. These little critters on average carried up to 29 seeds in their cheek pouches. This same site reported cones might not be produced by the species until trees are twenty years old.

The Jeffrey Pine (Pinus jeffreyi) specimen tagged in City Park was planted in 1996 with a trunk diameter of 5″. We were not able to locate any pinecones to photograph. This bud from April, though, is of interest.

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Bud of a Jeffrey pine

To find the tagged Jeffrey pine on the tree tour, start at the SE corner of the park. If you walk straight across Jackson from Magnolia, you will head in the correct direction. You might first encounter the alligator juniper tree, which is East of a group of taller pines. One of these is the Jeffrey pine C153.

Limber Pine—Branches Flexible Enough You can Tie them in Knots

The tree grows under conditions which may prove too harsh for other species.

Limber pine (Pinus flexilis) is another species which may be susceptible to damage from the pine beetle. Like most other trees, this species has a number of alternate names, including Rocky Mountain pine. This conifer is native to the western states as well as the two westernmost Canadian providences.

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Trunk of the limber pine

In Colorado, it is found from elevations of 5000′ to 12,000′.  It is also native to Utah where it is reported to grow from elevations of 4000′  to 11000′. Limber pine in North Dakota grow below 3000′. The groves of trees in North Dakota are thought to have arisen from seeds carried to the area by various Native Americans.

Limber pine survive stressors which may prove too harsh for other species. For instance, it is able to grow under dry conditions. The bendable property of its branches may allow it to survive in avalanche prone areas and this trait may help with slope stabilization as well as runoff control. Limber pines also have deep taproots, which help with resistance to wind. This species provide food for rodents and birds, such as the Clark’s Nutcracker. In turn the seeds are too large to be blown far by the wind; birds, then are a means of distribution. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Although lumber from Pinus flexilis is of little commercial value today, in the past it was used in mines, as railroad ties, and as firewood. In herbal medicine the resin may be used like that of other pines—as an antiseptic and to help with respiratory conditions. The seeds can also serve as a food source for humans.

Limber pines are a long-lived species, which may not reach maturity until 200 years. (North American Trees, Preston and Braham.) Some of the oldest trees may be well over 1500 years. Even though some members of this species grow on windy ridges causing  twisting and stunting, others may approach sixty feet in height.

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Leaves of the limber pine

Pinus flexilis belongs to the the group of pines with their needles in bundles of five. These leaves grow to be between 2.5 and 3.5 inches in length. The female cones are green prior to maturity and may grow as long as seven inches.

Like many conifers of the mountain west, the limber pine may be affected by climate change and damage by various pests, including mountain pine beetles; a fungus which causes white pine blister rust; and drawf mistletoe. The fungus spread from Asia to Europe in the 1860s. It made its appearance in Wyoming on limber pines in 1970 and by the late 1990s was found in Colorado as well.

To find the tagged LIMBER PINE (Pinus flexilis) in the arboretum, C182, start near the SE corner of Sheldon Drive and City Park. A row of trees, including ashes and conifers, runs more or less parallel to City Park Drive. The limber pine is in the middle of a small cluster of conifers. In the middle of an open area is a park bench which is west of this small grove of trees. Another landmark might be the exercise station near this same corner. You could walk from there along the row of trees to find the pine. 

This specimen was planted in 1981 when it had a diameter of 8″. In the flesh it does not appear quite as scraggly as it does in the winter photo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hong Song, Kimchee, Diabetes, and the Korean Pine.

The Korean pine is an important component of the habitat for the Siberian tiger.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs the name implies, this is not a tree native to the United States, although it may be grown here for its ornamental value. The American Conifer Society lists this species, Pinus koraiensis, as native to Korea and Japan. Other sources state it is also native to China and parts of Russia. Some of the musical names this pine is known as around the world are Hong Song, Chosen-goyo and Chosen-matsu.

A World Wildlife site links pine nut trees and their destruction as an important component in the decline of the Siberian (Amur) tiger, which may be extinct in North Korea. The seeds are a food source for both wild boar and deer, prey of the tigers. This same site blames the rising world demand for the lumber from this tree for its illegal logging.

The seeds are a food staple in Asia, and possibly one of few cash crops in parts of Russia. The leaves may be used as a dye. Various parts of the tree also have been used for medicinal purposes, including ear aches and weight loss.

Of interest is the possible satiety value of the seeds from this conifer. Researchers have reported the nuts are high in Pinolenic acid, which may act as an appetite suppressant and also help lower lipid levels. Other studies  suggest pine nut oil may have a role in diabetes control. These nuts are also used in Korean cuisine. The nuts, called Jat, are part of a number of dishes, from kimchee to fruit desserts. This website includes links to recipes.

This white pine with its five needles to a bunch, oldest specimen is reported to be at least  629 years old for a tree found in Mongolia. The tallest tree is reported to be just over 157 feet. This tree was found in mountains in the Russia/China/Mongolia area.

A nursery in Canada states its stock is grown from 100 year old Canadian trees, making it sound as if this species could survive in other areas of the world. The site also has a photograph of a standard-sized pine nut compared to a jumbo pistachio. The implication is that this is a fruitful and beneficial tree to grow for your own use. It states the harvesting of the nuts from the cones is an easy but sticky venture. Rhora’s Nut Farm and Nursery reports the trees produce cones starting at about 7 years, with a few producing as early as six. Each cone yields an average of seventy seeds. Korean pines are grown for nut production in many areas of the continent, including Michigan and Ontario.

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The Korean Pine

The Korean Pine, C134, in the City Park Arboretum may be found along Jackson Street, north of the wooden bridge if you are on the sidewalk. If you are driving, it is slightly north of Olive street. A fairly small tree, it undoubtedly was recently planted. The lack of any visible pine cones might help confirm its young age.

 

 

 

 

 

Ponderosa Pine—Or maybe you call it Bull Pine, Black Jack, Western Yellow Pine, or One of Many Other Names

Three subspecies have been identified through-mitochondrial DNA.

What a surprise! The ponderosa pine is one of the first trees with a distribution in most of the WESTERN part of the US and part of Canada! According to National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees (Western Region,1980) this is the most widely distributed pine in the United States. Its range includes British Columbia. In Colorado the species covers about 2 million acres. The Colorado State Forest Service website, also says this is about 8 % of the forested area of the state. Ackerman mentions the tree grows from about 4600-9600 elevation. (Flora of Colorado, 2015.)

Like many of the other trees discussed in this blog, the ponderosa pine appears to be a  complex species. Even its “discovery” may be controversial with some sources citing 1820 and others mentioning 1805 passages from Lewis & Clark Expedition. According to the Gymnosperm Database, three subspecies have been determined through mitochondrial DNA. The three varieties appear to have geographic distinctions, too. The groupings include the northernmost trees, Pacific trees, and the more interior trees. Chris Earle, the author of conifers.org, indicates there does not seem to be interbreeding where the northern family shares habitat with the Pacific group.

This species are normally tall, straight trees with the trunk free of lower branches. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Ponderosa pine is one of the three highest producing lumber species in the western United States. Its wood is used for everything from veneer to construction. Apparently the trunks were sometimes used as flagpoles as at least one story of the origin of the name Flagstaff in Arizona, involves a ponderosa pine displaying the US flag.

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Ponderosa pine needles showing length and the bundles of two

The ponderosa pine provided Native Americans with food, medicine, and transportation in the form of canoes or snowshoes, as well as construction material and dyes. Almost the entire plant could be eaten. The many medicinal uses included the usual ointment for infections, skin conditions, and pain control. A less commonly mentioned use of tree parts in medicine was needles being tools for dermatological and gynecological reasons. The rosin left over after turpentine distillation is used on violin bows.

Monumental Trees lists the oldest ponderosa, located in Yosemite, to be more than 1020, although a 1914 record of a tree in southwest Colorado was measured at 1047 years. As might be expected for a tree that is only native to North America, the United States also has the widest and tallest trees. The record for height is a tree in Oregon measured to be over 268 feet tall.

At least four species of Ips beetle can infect ponderosa pines. These beetles normally attack dying or stressed trees, but when there are excess beetles they may attack and kill healthy trees. For the eighteen years from 1996 to 2014, the mountain pine beetle damaged over 3 million acres of trees in  Colorado alone. Although these beetles have always destroyed some trees, according to the National Park Service recent outbreaks had become more severe. According to the Colorado State Forest, though, the problem may have begun to abate in 2017. In the past, long term cold snaps killed off many of the noxious beetles, but with warmer winters, good forestry management techniques must be employed, including thinning of trees, and solar treatment of logs from downed trees to help control the destructive insects. With climate change, the forests of the West, as well as the rest of the world, may be changing.

The Ponderosa pines on the Fort Collins Self-guided Tree Tour are easy to find. They still sport the rustic signs first used to identify the trees.

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The appearance of the bark changes as the tree ages

To find  C152 Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa), drive to the west end of Oak Street, just east of the intersection with Bryan Street. The trees are in front of the pottery studio.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Southwestern White Pine–Food for Bears?

Pinecones aren’t always helpful in identification, especially when they are missing or misplaced.

I put off a post about the southwestern white pine, Pinus strobiformis, until after Christmas because I figured it wouldn’t be of much use as a holiday tree. To my surprise, a site from Kansas identified it as such. The Covered Bridge Ranch in Montrose, Colorado also included it on a chart of its trees for sale for holiday decoration.

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The needles of a southwestern white pine

This variety of conifer has five needles growing per fascicle and each leaf may grow up to four inches in length.

Pinus strobiformis is found in the southwestern states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and the southwest/south central counties of Colorado (Ackerman, Jennifer, Flora of Colorado) where it may grow up to 9000 feet in elevation. Like many other trees it has other common names such as pino enamo, border pine, and Mexican pine (North American Trees, Preston and Braham, 5th edition.)

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The branches and bark of the southwestern white pine

According to the US Forest Service, although used for window frames and some cabinetry, this species is not valuable as lumber due to its tendency toward crooked growth. It is sometimes grown for its ornamental value, and some dwarf versions are available.

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A southwestern white pine

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center lists this species as having large seeds, which have served as food for both wildlife and southwestern tribes. At least one paper reports the seeds are a food for black bears. Practical Plants likens the seeds to piñon nuts with a harder shell. This website also mentions a vanilla flavoring agent from the resin. Like most other pines, the resins and other parts of the plant have been used as disinfectants and medicinally for many conditions.

The Gymnosperm Database lists the largest tree in the US as being in the Lincoln National Forest of New Mexico. This tree has a circumference of nearly five feet, is a bit over 111 feet tall, and has a crown spread of 62 feet. The oldest tree is also in New Mexico but is part of the San Mateo mountains. In 2006 it was said to be 599 years old. The tallest specimen, though, is in the San Juan Forest of Colorado. In 2014 it was measured as being nearly 128 feet tall.

To find C173 Southwestern White Pine (Pinus strobiformis) in Fort Collins City Park, start near the corner of Mulberry Street and Sheldon Drive. This specimen is on the east side of the road, behind a larger conifer, more or less across from the outhouse on the W side of the road.

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Is this the cone of the southwestern white pine?

Note on pinecones. It seems like conifer cones would be a useful way to help identify what kind of tree you are looking at. I found this specimen under the pine tree, but does it actually belong to this tree? It was the only cone. Between this tree and the conifer nearer to the road were strewn a number of other, slightly different cones. Descriptions of the white pine cone vary. How and where the cone grows on the tree can be of use in identification. Alas, no cones were visible on this tree at the time of viewing, eliminating the direction of growth as a helpful indicator.