Quercus gambelii is a tree native to the Southwest, including Colorado.
On the Fort Collins City Park Self-guided tree tour two oaks are listed as native to Colorado, the bur and the Gambel. Jennifer Ackerfield, Flora of Colorado, 2015, lists the Gambel oak as well as two shrubby oaks with which it hybridizes as native to this state. The USDA map shows the Gambel oak being native to states of the west and southwest, including Colorado, Wyoming and South Dakota. The USDA map shows the Bur oak as native to most of the Canadian provinces and the eastern United States as well as states north, south, and east of Colorado, but not Colorado itself.
According to the passage in Western Explorersand other sources, Gambel oak may also be called scrub oak. Ackerman agrees Quercus gambelli Nutt. can be either shrubby or a small tree*, but other authors call different species of Quercus scrub oak. Some of these also may be native to the region, and all of them do appear to be mostly shrubs. To add to the confusion, other plant databases also call Gambel Oak Rocky Mountain White Oak or Utah White Oak. This short article says Gambel oaks are well-suited to Colorado by their smaller form as they require less water than many of their relatives. The smaller size also helps them withstand wind and snow. This species is common in Grand Canyon National Park.**
Nearly all sources agree the wood from Gambel oak is mostly only good for fuel, although it might also have been used for equipment handles and furniture such as cradle.
Many concoctions of oaks in general (Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West, Michael Moore, 2003) and Gambel Oak in particular, have been used for gum inflammation, diarrhea and other intestinal conditions. Another use mentioned in the book is a chewed bolus of the leaves applied to insect bites. Other uses include as an analgesic for postpartum pain. Acorns have been eaten to increase sexual potency.
The acorns of this oak have very short or nearly nonexistent stems. The hairy cap covers less than half of the actual nut.*** Properly prepared acorn meal can be added to breads or soups to increase protein content. Some use acorns as a coffee substitute that does not contain caffeine. You can make your own or even buy it!
Although the Gambel Oak provides food and cover for wildlife such as deer and squirrels, it is considered poisonous for many domestic species, such as cattle and sheep. Gambel oak holds a similar dichotomous place in fire management. Under moderate conditions it may act as a firebreak, but in severe conditions it can be explosive and deadly.
Thomas Nuttall, one of the most famous naturalist of his time, named this species after a young naturalist. William Gambel was only 15 when he began working under Nuttall. Soon he ventured out to the Southwest and discovered a new species of oak near Santa Fe. Also on his journeys he found numerous new bird species, some of which also bear his name. Gambel named one of these, a woodpecker, after Nuttall. Eventually he returned to Philadelphia where he earned his medical degree and married a childhood friend. Shortly after this, he packed his bags and headed back to California for the gold rush and to set up his medical practice. During his trip, he contacted typhoid and died at age twenty-six.
To find the Gambel Oak (Quercus gambelii) specimen in City Park look for E59on the map.
This tree is near the intersection of City Park and Bryan Avenue’s NW corner in a small cluster of trees. You can locate this cluster with the Gambel in the middle on the west side of the stone wall located between the derelict miniature train station and the road.
*Ackerfield, Jennifer, Flora of Colorado, 2015 p. 486
**Little, Elbert National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees, Western Region, 1994 p.398
***Preston and Braham, North American Trees, 5th edition, 2002 p. 303
Some consider the long seed pods and large leaves of this tree to be messy
The genus Catalpa contains ten or eleven (North American Trees, 5th Edition) different species of trees. The Chinese variety, Catalpa ovata, which is on the City Park tree tour, is a native of China but has been introduced in the eastern part of North America.
Two species are native to this continent, Catalpa Speciosa and the southern version, Catalpa bignonioides Walt. Even though neither of the other species is tagged in the park, I am going to discuss them because catalpas are one of my favorites. The trees look very similar with their large leaves and long bean-like seed pods. Each also has clusters of flowers, with the native trees blooming earlier with larger blossoms than the Chinese variety.
The Northern Catalpa (C. speciosa) is native to all but eight western states and Florida and has been introduced into Ontario. The Northern Catalpa is the largest of the three trees, normally growing to 60′. The National Champion tree in Indiana is 78′ and with a 81′ crown spread. C. bignonioides, the southern catalpa, has a range which overlaps that of the northern. It can be found in most of the states where the larger tree doesn’t grow as well as in North Dakota. Although the Southern catalpa is normally only 30-40′ in height (The Tree Book, Dirr and Warren, 2019) the champion tree listed in 2017 is not much smaller than its northern counterpart (75′ x 82′).
The moniker fish-bait tree technically applies to the southern variety of this tree, but the catalpa doesn’t want for other names. They include the cigar-tree, Catawba, Indian-bean tree, caterpillar tree, and Western Catalpa, with the Northern and Southern species sometimes sharing the same alternate name.
The wood of the northern tree has been used as railroad ties, trim carpentry, telephone poles, fences, and furniture. The southern catalpa wood has been used for similar purposes, but its most interesting use is in plantations where it is grown to attract the the catalpa sphinx moth, which is used for fish bait! (The Tree Book, Dirr and Warren, 2019).
Bark from C. Bignonioides has been used to treat malaria. Other parts of the plant have been used for medical reasons, including the roots, although the current writeup from the USDA includes a warning in red that the roots of this plant are poisonous! Plants for the Future rates only the Chinese Catalpa as having possible edibility. The USDA does warn that the native trees may be invasive and weedy. Many people complain that the seed pods are messy and many don’t like the large leaves. My feeling is that the larger leaves make them easier to pick up! Even the New York Times took up the case of the catalpa with the story of its spread in the 19th century.
The Chinese Catalpa is smaller than the native trees. An additional use of its wood is in the making of a traditional Chinese instrument, the Qin.
The Chinese catalpa C 175in the City Park Arboretum is along Sheldon Drive, just south of the Indian Magic Crabapple on the eastern side of the road, catty corner from the latrine on the west side of the road. The catalpa trees in town seem to leaf out and flower late in the season, so much so that if you own one, you start to worry it has died, yet the Chinese catalpa is even later. It looks quite scraggly even this late in June this year.
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.
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.
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.
Male seed cones on Ponderosa pine
Female cones on Ponderosa pine with male cones in the background
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
Who knew? I thought I’d do a quick post on a tree I “discovered” this summer, some sort of fancy maple. When you grow up in the East, you think all maples are sugar maples with leaves like those of the Canadian flag. Little did I know there are somewhere around 200 species of maples and not all of their leaves resemble the Canadian maple leaf. Most of the maple species grow in Asia and a few of them are evergreen! This blog has already covered one of the trees from China, the paperbark maple.
Some species of maple trees are native to North America, but many more have been introduced. Maples grow throughout the continent. According to JenniferAckerfield’s Flora of Colorado, only three species are native to Colorado. While many maples are currently on the threatened list, including the paperbark maple, Acer tataricum is not.
This type of maple is adaptable, so adaptable the state of Connecticut has declared it possibly invasive. A native of Asia, this small tree or shrub has edible seeds and could be tapped for syrup, but it isn’t likely to yield enough to be of much value. The seeds, or samsaras, of this species turn a red color in the summer.
There is a second Tatarian maple in the park, and it was this other tree I first noticed. With a name like Hot Wings, you might think this variety was developed in Buffalo, New York, but its true birthplace is right here in Fort Collins, Colorado! When I first encountered it, from a distance I thought it might be a crabapple with early fruit, although the shape of the overall tree seemed wrong. Up close it was obvious it wasn’t a crabapple and was labeled a maple, a Hot Wings Tartarian Maple.
This is another small tree often used for ornamental purposes. It does well in adverse conditions. The show piece of this tree are the samsaras, which turn bright red in the summer. Although the leaves in the accompanying photo are mauled by hail and difficult to discern, they look very much like the leaves in the picture above and not at all like a Canadian maple leaf.
Finding the trees in City Park:
The Tatarian Maple (Acer tataricum)C167 is near the corner of Sheldon Drive and Mulberry Street, on the east side of Sheldon Drive. Locate it between the exercise station near the City Park pedestrian crossing and the stone City Park entrance sign.
The showier D202 Tatarian Hot Wings Maple (Acer tataricum Hot Wings) is about halfway to the intersection of Sheldon and City park on the lakeside of the street. It is near a wooden box, which actually looks more like a blank sign, and a stone memorial bench.
is another tree native to the eastern half of the continent. Unlike most other trees from the east, the USDA lists its native range as extending into Colorado. Flora of Colorado (Ackerman) says this species does not “persist outside of cultivation,” though. She also mentions it is very similar to the Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica,)which is native to Larimer County as well as most of the rest of the continent. Oddly, the Green Ash is also known as Red Ash. Unfortunately, both trees are on the critically endangered list.
The national champion white ash, nominated in 2012, is in New Jersey and has a total of 398 points, compared to the Colorado champion which only has 288.9 points. The second and third largest Colorado ash trees are in Fort Collins, both in City Park, but only the smaller of the two is tagged. You can locate the runner up tree by using the Notable Tree Tour map of Fort Collins. The National Champion Green Ash is in Virginia. It has a total score of 355, while the Colorado champion, located in Greeley, has a score of just over 315.
An interesting early use of the ash tree
was for people to stuff their shoes and pockets with leaves as these were said to ward off snakes. Ash trees in Viking legend involve the creation of man. Interestingly, this was also part of Algonquin Legends. In modern “legend” ash wood has figured in Harry Potter. More prosaic uses of ash lumber are in baseball bats, guitars, bows, hockey sticks and tool handles. Juicing the leaves
results in a topical treatment for mosquito bites. The tree provides food for birds and other small animals as well as shade, and is a valuable member of the ecosystem.
The emerald ash borer is a major threat to the species. This introduced pest was first detected in the US in 2002, but it is thought that the first invaders appeared in Michigan in the 1990s. A similar invasion affecting European ash trees has been noted in Russia. As of this year, 33 states and three Canadian providences have been confirmed to be infected. Millions of trees have already been lost. In the Denver area alone there are nearly 1.5 million ash trees and in certain parts of Colorado ash trees could account for 80% of the urban forest. There are over 3000 ash trees in the city of New York. A bulletin was issued in October, 2017 that emerald ash borers had been found in the boroughs of NY.
Although this pest could be devastating to the ash population, there are steps that can be taken to help protect trees. Some of these involve not assisting in the spread of this problem. You can inoculate your own trees when the threat has reached your area. For a tree to be a candidate for injection or spraying, it needs to be healthy. Unfortunately, emerald ash borer is not the only threat to ash trees. The white ash is sensitive to ozone and other gas levels and also prone to ash decline.
Why should this little green pest be of interest to you? Are you a fan of major league baseball? Did you know the bats used in league play, most of which are made by Louisville Slugger have used wood from an area now devastated by the emerald ash borer? If you are a woodworker, the loss of this abundant and inexpensive wood could be a factor in future projects.
An interesting study which should be of concern to all of us recently concluded human health can be linked to the loss of trees, specifically the ash trees. The presence of emerald ash borer and subsequent decline in the ash tree population was associated with an increase of over 20,000 deaths related to respiratory or cardiovascular causes.
At least some believe the increase in deaths is related to the ability of trees and forests to help humans deal with stress.
Another point to remember is that genus Fraxinus are the trees being devastated by the borer. Mountain Ash (Sorbus) trees are not affected.
Finding some of the ash trees in Fort Collins City Park.
Both a large green ash tress and a large white ash are located behind the tennis courts. You could park near the trolley terminal and walk West to find A78 White Ash (Fraxinus americana)located behind the pickle ball courts.
Almost due South is the Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) E80. There is a smaller maple tree between the two.
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.