An ancient Serbian saying is “Healthy as a Cornelian Cherry.”
I met with Forestry Specialist Molly Roche yesterday and inquired about which trees might flower first. She responded there was already one tree in bloom! Although I’d noticed many trees starting to bud, the only flowers I’ve noticed so far have been on a tree in Denver. My casual observation is that Denver is usually two weeks to ten days ahead of us in weather-dependent events. So I was surprised but visited the tree, a Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas), which is a member of the Dogwood family.
The Dogwood family is large and diverse, containing at least 120 species from small trees and shrubs to herbaceous plants. This member of the Cornaceae family originated in Asia and Europe and resembles forsythia. Apparently this plant and its fruit are bountiful in Serbia and result in an ancient saying, “healthy as a cornelian cherry.” The small yellow flowers are not particularly showy, nor did I notice a distinct odor.
According to many internet sources, the cherries (drupes) are edible, nutritious, and delicious. These factors may make them a good choice for a backyard crop. A test farm in Wisconsin mentions they yield in a short time and have little tendency to be invasive. They also estimate that the plants will be viable for around fifty years, although another source calls the pit a deterrent to mass production.
Mother Earth News mentions the high vitamin C content of the cherries as a possible reason for their medicinal value. The fruit has been used for the usual intestinal complaints including cholera, as well as a cure for symptoms such as tinnitus. Medicinal Herbs suggests an oil can be distilled from seeds and a dye may be acquired from the bark. The wood may also have been fashioned into bows and spears.
Although some cultures thought the wild cherries fit only for pigs, the fruit has been eaten for centuries. Similar to juniper berries in gin, the dried cherries are added to vodka and wine in Russia. There is an alcoholic beverage from Albania, raki, which uses the fruit. Cherries can be made into preserves, into a cranberry-like sauce, and are used in Persian cuisine. Recipes for various sorts of syrups, jams and other preparations can be found on the web.
Location in City Park. Depending on the time of year, E10 Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas) may be very easy to find as it could be the only tree flowering in the park. From South Bryan Avenue, take the road on the side of the Fire Station. This drive leads to the Park Shop and the golf course parking lot. (On maps S. Bryan and City Park Drive appear to merge into the same street.) On the S side of the road more or less in front of the Park Shop building, there are two small trees. The one to the W is the Cornelian Cherry. Its tag currently is easy to find, although there are actually two separate identifiers on the tree. On 3/23/18 they did contradict each other, but the yellow flowers of the tree are the giveaway: This is the Cornelian Cherry.
The leaves of this tree are sharp enough they hurt!
No big surprise, but Giant Sequoias are only native to California. This species of the Cupressaceae family is the only member of its genus Sequoiadendron. The trees are also called big tree and Sierra Redwood. They are so large, they often have monikers. The largest standing today is the General Sherman which has a volume of 52,500 cubic feet and is over 274 feet tall. Due to their height and trunk volume, these trees are often referred to as the largest living things on earth. General Sherman is not the tallest known Giant Sequoia. The tallest is said to be over 300 feet and grows in a known grove but the exact tree is not specified. Sequoias may also be some of the most long-lived, as the oldest one by stump count in 1870 was 3266 years.
As this tree grows fast even in old age, it is possible the General Sherman will get both taller and wider! Although Giant Sequoias would provide a lot of wood per tree, most of them are protected. Once used for fenceposts, their wood is rot resistant but also brittle, making it less than ideal for building. The local Native Americans, members of the Tule River Tribe, did use the wood for fenceposts and crafts, but instead of felling the trees, they utilized downed wood. After the white man discovered the Sequoia, many were lumbered, eventually leading the preserved groves to be added to the National Park System.
North American Trees (Preston and Braham, 2002) mention that a “dark red pigment in ink” can be obtained from the cones. One advantage of having a smaller tree in the park is you can feel the leaves, which I think are the prickliest of the conifers. They hurt!
Sequoias have been planted elsewhere in the world, including Denmark and France. In the mid 1800s, Giant Sequoias were a popular addition to English castle gardens, where conditions appear to be ideal. Some of the largest specimens in Europe can be found in Great Britain. In the relatively few tree-years since then, some specimens have acquired height of around half the tallest in the US. Another group of trees which were planted in Denmark to help with reforestation, where killed in the winter of 1942. Today many visitors from around the world take home seeds to grow the trees.
To find B116 Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) go to the triangle formed at Oak, Jackson, and City Park. In this area is a stone bench. If you were to sit on the bench facing south you would be looking toward the Giant Sequoia, which is parallel to the lamp post.
Want a suggestion on how to make a Bloody Mary without alcohol?
Juniperus is the largest of the genus in family Cupressaceae and consists of at least 55 species. Four species are mapped in City Park. Four species are also native to Colorado, three of which are marked in the park. The fourth, Juniperus communis is a low-spreading shrub. (Flora of Colorado, Ackerfield, 2015.)
The junipers, often mistakenly called cedars, were used by many Native American tribes. Rocky Mountain Juniper branches were used for purification, the red colored wood for lance shafts and bows. The Cheyenne were said to prize the wood for flutes. The boughs were used to line sweat lodges, and a few tribes bathed their horses in water steeped with juniper to give their coats a high sheen. It may also have been a dandruff deterrent.
The berries, which are actually the seed cones of the plant, could be dried and strung for necklaces. An ingenious way of producing a hole in the berry was to allow ants to eat out the sweet inner core. Smoked they turned black. Dyes can be made from the roots and berries. One source mentions that the wood is used in making pencils.
Mythology says that juniper boughs have been used to ward off devils and witches, while dreaming of the berries had symbolic meaning. Giving berries as gifts conferred honor on the recipient.
Of course, there were numerous uses of the berries as both food and medicine, but not only in Native American cuisine. In Europe they are used to flavor German sauerkraut and Swedish pickles, as well as to cut the gaminess of venison and other meats. One of the best known uses for juniper berries is in making gin. Edible & Medicinal Plants of the Rockies (Kershaw, 2000) includes an easy recipe for making a Tricky Mary, a virgin Bloody Mary in which you allow juniper berries to flavor tomato juice.
Medicinal uses include the ubiquitous cure for a cold and other chest aliments, as a digestive aid, and for inflammation. According to Edible & Medicianal Plants of the Rockies a berry tea has been used to prevent pregnancy and also as a hunger suppressant. The berries were used by practitioners in the Middle Ages to help ward off Black Death.
At the same time that many books and sites on the Internet provide recipe ideas for the berries, most also warn against large doses, especially for pregnant women. Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Rockies warns that over ingesting can result in convulsions and kidney failure while oil applied topically may case blistering. Even those who tout natural remedies warn against eating the berries without knowing what you are doing. At least one species is identified as a known toxin.
Rocky Mountain Juniper(Juniperus scopulorum) is native throughout Colorado other than the most eastern counties. Trees can grow even in Weld and Logan counties. Rocky Mountain Juniper grow through most western states except California. One clue to its habitat range may be that it does not tolerate high humidity. This species was used in ways similar to the general discussion above.
The twigs and branches of Juniperus scopulorum are an important food source for the elk and deer of the region, while the berries are an important part of the diet of many smaller males and bird.
The One-Seed Juniper is native to the American Southwest. Its range includes southwest Colorado (Flora of Colorado, Ackerfield, 2015). Its name is derived from the fact that its cones (berries) normally have but one seed each. The plant is common in the higher elevations of New Mexico and due to its long tap root, is able to survive in drier areas. The Santa Fe Botanic Gardens Newslettersays the ash from this tree is still used in Navajo wool dyeing as well as part of traditional Pueblo food recipes. The branches and smoke from burning juniper are also part of various ceremonies. Other sources mention that the bark was used to make mats and cloth.
The Utah Juniper grows naturally in nine of the western states, including Colorado. Again, it is not native to Larimer County. Canyonlands National Parks says this “indomitable Juniper” can grow in “an environment of baking heat, bone-chilling cold, intense sunlight, little water and fierce winds.”
The Alpine Nature Center in Alpine, Utah, provides a chart of the differences between the Rocky Mountain Juniper and the Utah Juniper.
Most of the distinguishing characteristics are related to color and shape. For instance, the bark of the Rocky Mountain juniper has a reddish hue while that of the Utah is more gray. This is barely discernible in the photos accompanying this post. The biggest difference might be that both male and female cones are born on the Utah Juniper while the Rocky Mountain junipers have distinct male and female trees. The aforementioned site claims a yeast in the berries is what is important to the gin making process. It also includes a recipe using juniper berries as the starter for a sourdough!
I’ve been aware of a literary journal called Alligator Juniperfor some time and always thought it was an odd name until I learned it was named after the Alligator Juniper tree.
Its habitat in the US includes only Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. One look at its bark, and it is easy to understand where it got its name.
This species has both male and female trees, with only the berries/cones on the female tree worth eating. The male pollen cones are the reason this tree is listed as a moderate allergen.
According to a post about the trees in Texas, this is a slow grower. One interesting study of the effects of climate change has shown that the Alligator Juniper has “crept” to higher elevations over the last fifty years.
The mentioned uses of the berries and other parts of the tree coincide with those of other junipers, although some reports for this specific species mention how strong the juniper taste is. For those of you interested in boutique spirits, at least one company is making a gin with Alligator Juniper berries known as Mt. Lemmon Gin. The Zuni use it as incense.
How to find the Junipers:
E60: Rocky Mountain Juniper (Juniperus scopulorum) Find the tagged specimen on the other side of the fence in front of the miniature train station. It is across from Club Tico on City Park Drive.
D199 One-seed Juniper (Juniperus monosperma). This tree is located along the east side of Sheldon Lake between the lake and the road, near the Douglas Fir and the frog statues. One author mentioned that One-seed Junipers look somewhat like Arborvitae, so look for a squat conifer.
C127 Utah Juniper (Juniperus osteosperma). This specimen is located between playing fields on the S side of City Park Drive as you head toward the Jackson Street exit. If you are driving east from the junipers mentioned above, cross Sheldon Drive and park about two-thirds of the way to the exit, near a group of trees that are encircled with bricks. You will need to walk as the tree is a short distance from the road. I was not able to locate the tag, but after reading that the Utah juniper produces both seed cones (berries) and pollen cones, it seemed obvious that this is the correct tree.
To find C157, Alligator Juniper (Juniperus deppeana), you could walk south from the Utah Juniper toward the corner of W. Mulberry and Jackson to a small clump of trees. You could also drive and park just S of the intersection of W. Magnolia and Jackson. This smaller conifer seems set off by itself. To find the tag, you need to walk into the branches.
What do Harry Potter and Arborvitae have in common?
I swear I never heard of Arborvitae until this year, but when I stop to think about it, I believe we had some growing in our front yard until we took them out to change the landscape. They were annoying. The branches bent under heavy snow or ice. Arborvitae are native to the eastern United States and Canada where they may be called Eastern White Cedar or Northern White Cedar.
Arborvitae means tree of life in Latin, but unfortunately, in common parlance, other varieties of trees are referred to as the tree of life. The baobab and coconut both may carry that appellation while a specific mesquite tree in Bahrain also is called that.
Thuja occidentalis may have been the first specimen tree to be transported and transplanted to Europe and has been grown there since the 1500s. It was given the name Tree of Life when Jacques Cartier learned from the Iroquois that a tea made from its leaves would cure his men of scurvy. There are five species in the genus, but only two of them are native to North America. The other three species are native to Asia.
Native Americans not only used the leaves for the nourishing tea, but as bedding, and the lumber was used as canoe frames. Many parts of the tree were used for other medicinal purposes, including as an abortifacient. Log cabins have been built from larger specimens, partly due to the wood’s insulating properties and rot resistance. This last property also contributes to the wood’s use as fence posts. Arborvitae are important for wildlife as both a food source and shelter.
Although today this species is most often used in the landscape, it can be a long-lived tree with one of the oldest known thought to be over 1000 years. The Wintergreen Arborvitae variety seems especially well suited as a privacy screen while other varieties planted in a row are used for windbreaks.
According to some sources, the tree has antibacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral components. Alternative medicine practitioners may suggest its use during radiation. An essential oil is made from its steam distillate, which is most commonly used to burn off warts. According to the site cited above, the essential oil is up to 65% thujone, Thujone, also a component of absinthe, is considered toxic and the use of the oil, especially ingested, is not recommended. Apparently thujone is mentioned in at least one of the Harry Potter books and caused quite a stir with the religious right!
Two of the three arborvitae in City Park are near each other. A94 Wintergreen Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis Hertz Wintergreen ) and B96 Techny Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis Techny) are located along Roosevelt Drive between Oak Street and City Park Drive. Both are in the field on the east side, across from the trolley station and tennis courts. The Wintergreen Arborvitae is closer to City Park Drive, near the tall conifers. The Techny is directly across from the trolley station.
The third tree, E62 Brandon Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis Brandon) is between the ditch and the miniature Train Station, just past the rock wall that runs along City Park Drive, across from Tico’s.
Did Hawaiians use Douglas Fir for their war canoes?
The Douglas Fir is possibly the most majestic of the trees native to Colorado and Larimer County.
Considering only conifers, in height in North America this species is second only to the Coastal Redwood. The tallest tree is listed at over 326 feet. Doug Firs are also listed as some of the oldest trees on the continent, with one recorded to be over 1300 years. Of course both the largest, tallest, and oldest of the trees are members of the West Coast Douglas Firs, which some consider a separate species than the Rocky Mountain Douglas Fir. Others list them as geographic varieties. (National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees, Western Region, 1994; North American Trees, 5th Edition 2002.) Apparently the USDA does not distinguish between the two as the range map includes both the west coast and the Rocky Mountains.
In Colorado, the champion Douglas Fir, (Pseudotsuga menziesii) is in the San Juan National Forest. The tallest in the state was measured in 2014 at a height of 169″.
To add to the confusion surrounding this tree, it really isn’t a fir at all and has its own genus, Pseudotsuga. Some authors explain this is because it more closely resembles a hemlock while having traits of both spruces and firs. Most notably, the cones of the tree grow downward and not upward as do those of true firs.
The cones are distinctive with their fringy ends and have their own legend on how they got to look that way!
Like the true firs (Abies), needles are flat.
This species is one of the most important trees in the western forest. Many animals use parts for food. Along with the usual medicinal uses of the leaves, bark, etc to treat various aliments, including coughs and colds, spring buds were used by at least one tribe to cure venereal disease. Parts of the tree were also ground to be used as a fertilizer. Like many other members of Pinaceae, smaller Douglas fir may make excellent and popular Christmas trees. Although the parts of the fir might not be a routine ingredient of the current American diet, the leaves can be used as a flavoring agent. A number of recipes can be found here and here. There is even a recipe for Gummy Treats.
Not only is the Douglas Fir important commercially in North America, but according to an article in WOOD magazine.com it has “migrated” to Europe, Australian, and even South Africa! Some of its commercial uses have included telephone poles, railroad ties, flooring, and paneling. The doors and most of the molding in my 1919 home are made of Douglas fir, and likely this same wood is seen in many west coast Craftsman homes. You could say this is continuing a tradition from ancient Puebloans, as they used the trees to construct their dwellings. Other uses included prayer sticks and a resin to coat buckets. The lumber is also used in boats, with the masts of the USS Constitution currently being constructed of it. The bark has been used to make a dye.
Probably one of the most surprising uses of the wood is that, even though these trees are not native to Hawaii, this was a preferred wood for Hawaiians to construct their canoes! Probably from logs that drifted ashore.
The tagged Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)in City Park is D196. To find this tree, head to the Northeast end of Sheldon Lake. You can park along Sheldon Drive or along the section of City Park Drive that is near the pool entrance. If you have been studying the Engelmann Spruce (D193) or Baker Blue Spruce (D194), you need only to climb up the short embankment through the tall conifers. No matter from which direction you approach this tree, if you see the huge green frogs (more Art in Public Places?) you are getting close. The Douglas Fir is south and east of the monstrosities. Depending if you are walking on the sidewalk that encircles the lake, or approaching from the street, the tree is either behind the swinging bench or in front of it.
The cones and needles may be the clues to telling firs from spruces.
Many years ago I went on a ranger talk in a national park and have always remembered the meme “Friendly fir, prickly pine.” A lot of good that does when it comes to spruce, although a landscape architect friend added “spikey” for spruce. After running my hands over the leaves of some of the firs, though, I don’t think that learning aid is completely accurate. Many firs and spruce look disconcertingly similar. The Norway spruce, Picae abies, even shares part of its name with the firs, whose genus is Abies. One way to tell a spruce from a fir is the direction in which the cones grow. Usually trees with cones pointing up are firs. The needles on firs are also flat compared to those of spruces. In the photo below, all the pieces, except the White Fir, lie flat on the background. In the case of the subalpine, the Nordmann, and the Fraser fir, the backside of the needles can be seen to be of a lighter color, too.
Subalpine fir (Abies lasciocarpa) ranges over the western half of the continent. It is also native to Larimer County (Flora of Colorado, Jennifer Ackerfield, 2015.) The tree itself is useful in watersheds and rehabilitating the land. Various parts of the tree were of use to Native Americans as shingles, bedding, and medicinally. This species normally does not produce cones until it is twenty or more years old. Most of the Colorado state champion subalpine fir are found in the San Juan National Forest. The oldest trees, including one found in Wyoming, are around 500 years old. The tallest measure over 172 feet.
The Corkbark (Abies lasiocarpa var. arizonica) is a variant of the subalpine fir found only in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. It does not produce cones until it is over fifty years of age. Trees can be found on Wolf Creek Pass and in the mountains of northern New Mexico, although the champion tree has been listed variously as in Arizona or near Ruidoso, NM. Its wood is the lightest of American trees and has little value as lumber.
Grand Firs are native to the Northwest. The layout of the needles on this conifer seem to be the flattest of the firs in the park and have an almost fernlike appearance. The trees take 200-250 years to mature and are grown for Christmas trees in this country and for lumber in Europe. Native Americans used the needles medicinally, as well as for a baby powder and a cure for baldness. The essential oils of firs have many uses including as a stimulate, deodorant, expectorant, and air freshener.
The Fraser Fir is found in limited areas of the American south. Due to its remoteness and small distribution, its primary use is in watershed management. It is also grown commercially for Christmas trees. Sources list various types of trees as the best/most popular for Christmas; the Fraser fir is usually toward the top of the list. Fir varieties have been used for the Capitol Christmas tree fifteen times.
Trunk of the Fraser fir
The Nordmann Fir (Abies nordmannia) is native to Asia Minor, where it is a popular Christmas tree.
The last of the six firs mapped in the park is the White Fir, (Abies concolor) although the tag could not be located. As can be seen on the mat with the needles above, this tree does not look that much like the other firs in the park. Its leaves are 2-3″ in length and it doesn’t lie as flat, although the individual needles are so flat they seem one dimensional!
The white fir is seen throughout most of the west and, according to the USDA map, is also native to Maine and Massachusetts. The US Forest Service distinguishes between a California white fir and a Rocky Mountain white fir. On conifers.org, another writer says white fir may be a catch-all name and that the species may have geographical variations. The Forest Service mentions the trees can live between three and four hundred years. It is of significant use for wildlife, is used for Christmas trees, some smaller construction projects, and for food containers as its wood has little odor.
Yosemite boasts the largest white firs of the California branch of the species. The tallest tree in the Rocky Mountain group can be seen in the Hermosa Creek area of the San Juan mountains, the same area of the tall Colorado Blue Spruce.
Leaves of the white fir
White fir trunk
Locating the Firs: All but one of the tagged firs are on the west side of the park, west of the ditch. It is probably most advantageous to park near the pool or in the ballpark lot. If you are walking, you could start at either end. The directions below are from the ballpark parking lot.
Nordmann Fir (Abies nordmannia) E41 This fir is located between the Fort Collins Housing Authority, 1715 W. Mountain, the building at the far N end of the ballpark parking lot, and the N baseball diamond. It is the only evergreen tree planted by itself in this spot.
Grand Fir (Abies grandis) E31 From the south section of the parking lot, walk between the the restrooms and the office building. The Grand fir is the evergreen just past the pedestrian bridge over the ditch that runs along S. Bryan. (If you are walking from the main body of the park, it is easy to cross the bridge over the ditch. The Grand Fir is then the first evergreen to your left.)
Fraser Fir (Abies fraseri) E29 Continue walking past the basketball court to the small clump of trees, three of which are conifers. The smaller tree planted by itself is the Fraser Fir. The tag is up quite high and may be difficult to read.
White Fir (Abies concolor) E28 Just beyond the Fraser Fir are two towering trees. The tree to the west does not look particularly healthy. The tree to the east should be the White Fir, but its tag is not to be found. (If you DO find it, please let me know in a comment.)
Both the white and Fraser fir can be accessed from City Park Drive by entering the park through either the entrance to Shelter #7, or an informal entrance between a break in the fence and the stonewall of the road bridge over the ditch.)
Subalpine Fir (Abies lasiocarpa) E19 The last fir in this area of the park can be located by walking W toward the Big Chair, which is an example of Art in Public Places. The subalpine fir is just south of this chair, the only evergreen in the area.
If you are viewing this specimen on a separate occasion, you could park in the golf course parking lot and walk back along the road to a break in the fence. The tree is then to the East.
Corkbark Fir (Abies lasiocarpa var. arizonica) C132. This tree is at the opposite end of the park, along Jackson Avenue. It is across the street from 220 or 222 Jackson Ave, near one of the workout stations.
The needles of the Oriental Spruce almost look fake.
There are three other identified spruce trees in City Park. The Black Hills Spruce adds to the name confusion as it is also known as the White Spruce, Western White Spruce, Alberta Spruce, etc. To further cloud matters, there is a tree called a Black Spruce, which is distinct from the Black Hills Spruce. And on top of that, some sources identify the Black Hills Spruce as Picea Glauca, the exact same taxonomic name as the White Spruce. On the City Park Self-Guided Tree Tour the tree is identified as Picea glauca var.densata. Apparently the Black Hills Spruce is more of a geographically distinct tree rather than a biologically distinct tree.
The Trees of North America website shows the range of this tree as being the northern part of the continent at a latitude that does not include Colorado but does include Wyoming. A Black Hills Spruce, the official tree of South Dakota, was the Capitol Christmas Tree in 1997. It is often used as a home Christmas tree.
One of the more unique spruces in the park is the Oriental Spruce (Picea orientalis), which is native to Asia Minor. This tree is said to grow to 50 to 60 feet and twice that height in its native environment. The specimen in City Park is more bush-sized. Although this is a slow growing tree, I suspect this little tree has not been in the park all that long.
The branches with their needles almost looks fake!
The Norway Spruce (Picea abies) is not native to the North American continent but is widespread in Europe. It has been “introduced” to the eastern part of North America. This tree is often grown in this country for Christmas trees, taking eight to eleven years to reach the ideal height of six to seven feet. One problem of using this in-house is that it tends to lose its needles rather quickly and must be freshly cut to be used for any length of time.
The lumber from this tree is probably of more importance in Europe than it is in this country, but due to many of its properties–spreading root system, hardy wood, a shape which keeps it from suffering much damage in ice and snow–it makes a good windbreak tree.
The branches can also be used for spruce beer, the lumber for sounding boards, pulp, and paper. The pitch can be made into varnish and has medicinal uses.
The Oriental Spruce E47
is in an entirely new area of the park. To find this tree, drive all the way down Oak Street into the ballpark parking area or enter from Mountain Avenue. As Mountain is separated by a median, you will need to be heading east to access the parking lot. The tree, looking more like a shrub, is in the strip between the parking lot and the New Mercer Canal, toward the more northern end of this land. It is the only evergreen in the area.
Both the Norway Spruce (B112) and the Black Hills Spruce (B111) are accessible from the diagonal parking on Oak Street between Jackson and McKinley. Both trees are across from 1320 West Oak, the large red brick house with the sloping roof. In both instances the tags are easy to find.