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.
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.
It seems to me one of the most confusing aspects of spruce trees is their many alternate names. One of the names for the Engelmann Spruce is white spruce, as well as silver spruce and the generic-sounding mountain spruce. At a glance, the various species look very similar, too. The Engelmann Spruce (Picea engelmannii) is a native of North America. Listed in Flora of Colorado (Jennifer Ackerfield, 2015) it is native to Colorado as well as Larimer County! Unlike the White Spruce written about last week, internet sources concur this one is a native and show its range being the western part of the continent, south to the New Mexico/Texas border and north to the British Columbia/Yukon border. Possibly the confusion with the white spruce is due to the two trees hybridizing? The Gymnosperm Database mentions that the oldest Engelmann spruce is in Colorado and has attained at least 911 years of age.
The fine needles on the twigs and branches of the Engelmann spruce are much more evenly spaced than those of the white spruce, reminding me of a bottle brush. From a distance, this is hard to distinguish. When examined closely, the spruce cones also have subtle differences; the ends of the Engelmann spruce cones appear to be toothed. Comparing the tagged park specimens, the cones of the Engelmann are also somewhat larger than those of the White Spruce. The Engelmann spruce is the second most common tree used for the Capitol Christmas tree with nine appearances since 1970.
The New York Times Style Magazine of December 3, 2017 short article “Chasing Pine” discussed a number of edible uses of conifers, including the historical spruce beer. Modern chefs make pine ice cream, pine aioli, and custard. Others use a spruce oil in drinks, Some sprinkle a spruce-sugar concoction on cookies.
The Englemann Spruce listed on the tree guide (D193) is at the Southwest corner of City Park and Sheldon Drive. You can access this corner by turning onto Sheldon Drive from Mulberry and parking near the intersection with City Park Drive. That corner of the park is lined by deciduous trees on the eastern and northern edges. Numerous conifers form the south edge along the lakeshore. The marked tree sits in front of the larger spruces, between an Oakleaf Mountain Ash and a Baker Blue Spruce. It has a perfect conical Christmas tree shape.