Incense Cedar: Why Not the Pencil Tree?

Wine glasses, fleur de lis, pencils and casket liners?

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Shaggy bark of the Incense Cedar

From recent posts it might be concluded that many trees, including some of the cedars, have quite a few monikers. So why isn’t Pencil tree an alternative for the Incense Cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) ? Apparently there is something called a Pencil Tree, but it isn’t a plant that grows in the wild but instead is a slim fake Christmas tree. At least one book (North American Trees, Preston and Braham, 2002) does refer to this species as the Pencil-Cedar, but I didn’t not come across this designation elsewhere.

The Incense Cedar is native to the continent, but is only found in Oregon, California, Nevada, and Baja California. The eastern reach into Nevada may be because this tree, unlike others in the false-cypress family, doesn’t mind drier conditions. It isn’t normally found in a stand of the same species, but usually is the local specimen amongst others. Although its native habitat is limited, apparently it can be grown through much of the United States and is used as an ornamental.

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Leaves looking a bit like long-stemmed wine glasses.

Descriptions of the conifer’s leaves and cones are the most poetic I’ve yet encountered. The leaves are described as resembling long-stemmed wine glasses The opened seed cones are likened to both duck bills and the fleur-de-lis. The bark, cinnamon-colored, holds interest, too, and resembles that of the Paperbark Maple but in larger shreds. For a look at some older trees around the Portland, OR area, check out this blog: http://amycampion.com/incense-cedar-not-just-another-evergreen-tree. There is also a photo of the opened cone.

The largest example of this tree is known as the Devil’s Canyon Colossus and grows in California. Other large trees can be found in Oregon. Conifers.org says there is rumor of a tree that is over 930 years old, but without supporting evidence

Like most other conifers, this one had many uses for Native Americans, most similar to those of other evergreens. Breathing the steam from the leaves was used for upper respiratory ailments and a tea from the leaves could be brewed for stomach upsets. Baskets and brooms were made from the bark and boughs. Some Californian Native Americans may also have used the leaves as a flavoring agent. 

In the 1860s  and 70s the species’ lumber was used extensively for goldmine flumes. Current uses include closet liners, shingles, garden benches, boardwalks. On a macabre note, the wood has also been used to line both caskets and graves. The principle current use of the lumber, though, seems to be pencils.

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Pencils.com, a blog devoted to pencils, identifies Incense Cedar as the best wood for creating pencils. Other writers concur, but this wasn’t always the case. Pencils were first mass produced in Germany in 1662 and the first pencils in the New World were made in Massachusetts in1812. The first American factory opened in New York City in 1861. At first these writing implements were made of Eastern Red Cedar, but in the early 1900s, the Incense Cedar was found to have superior wood for their manufacture as it didn’t splinter easily and saw smooth.

There are plenty of odd facts about pencils, including that Napoleon wanted them as much as world domination. At one time bread crumbs were used as erasers. (Scum-X anyone?) Pencils were originally used on space flights but later banned. Many other sites include tidbits and other useless but interesting information about pencils and their history.

Although anti-dumping and other government sanctions have been applied to imported pencils from China, today the US may make fewer than 14%  of the world’s pencils. Incense cedar pencils may still be purchased here, although not all those sold are manufactured in America.

To find the (B114) Incense Cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) in the Fort Collins City Park Arboretum, you could park across from the second house from the NW corner of Oak and Jackson and walk directly into the park. The tree is located along City Park Drive, not far from the Giant Sequoia. There is a doggie bag station directly under the tree. To find the tag, walk into the branches. It is fun to see the tangled pattern they create when you look upwards as well. 

This particular specimen was planted in 1996 when its diameter was 3.5″.

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Incense Cedar with the doggie bag station visible under and behind it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Colorado State Tree and some Friends

The first Colorado Blue Spruce was discovered on Pike’s Peak

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The Blue Spruce at the corner of Jackson and Mulberry

Colorado Blue Spruce  (Picea pungens or Picea pungens Engelm) was found on Pike’s Peak and later named by the father of the Engelmann spruce. In 1892 it was voted to be the state tree of Colorado, but this did not become official until the 1930s. There are possibly forty hybridizations of this tree, such as the Fat Albert (Picea pungens Fat Albert), the Baker Blue Spruce (Picea pungens Bakeri), and the Thomsen Blue Spruce (Picea pungens  Thomsen). All three varieties can be found in City Park. The Thomsen Blue Spruce is listed as a state champion tree, although this can’t be verified on the list of 2017 State Champion Trees. The Fat Albert variety was developed in the 1970s, meaning the tree in City Park can only be around 50 years old.

Colorado Blue Spruce, which are seen throughout most of the Rocky Mountain states, may reach 600 years of age. According to conifers.org the tallest Colorado Blue Spruce grow in the San Juan Mountains near Pagosa Springs and these trees include both state and national champions. The Blue Spruce is another tree often used as a Christmas tree. They are grown in the east for this purpose. Most sources identify the native range of this tree to be the southern Rockies, but the USDA site adds some eastern states, such as New York. Another USDA site on the internet posits these trees are actually “escapees” and not native at all. A blue spruce has been the capitol Christmas tree three times. According to Wikipedia, the National Christmas tree has been a living blue spruce since 1973.

Like the White Spruce and the Engelmann Spruce, the Blue Spruce is known by other names, including white spruce, silver spruce and water spruce. Spruce seem easy to identify as Picea, but deciding on which species/variety each belongs to is as confusing as their various names. There are some differences between their leaves and cones but even these are difficult for the casual observer to determine.

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There are two tagged Colorado Blue Spruce in the park, but I could only locate the tagged one on the NW corner of Mulberry and Jackson C163. The tagged tree belongs to a small group of conifers and is the spruce closest to Jackson Street, near an Eastern White Pine. You have to “walk into” the branches to find the identifying tag.

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Branches of the Colorado Blue Spruce

To find the Thomsen Blue Spruce (C166),

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Thomsen Blue Spruce

follow the sidewalk that runs along Mulberry Street. This tree is the first evergreen west of the signaled crosswalk, more or less across from 1413 West Mulberry. Cones can be seen near the top of the tree.

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Close up of the needles on the Thomsen Blue Spruce

To find the Fat Albert D213, keep walking west and cross Sheldon Drive to the NW corner of Mulberry and Sheldon Drive. The tree is question is the spruce closer to the lake. The needles on the Fat Albert seem to be the stiffest and most prickly of the specimens collected and are very silvery-blue.

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The Fat Albert
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Needles on the Fat Albert

 

The last tagged Picea pungens cultivar in the park is at the SW corner of Sheldon Drive and City Park, the other end of Sheldon Lake. The Baker Blue Spruce (D194) is next to the tagged Engelmann Spruce. 

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Branches on the Baker Blue Spruce
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Baker Blue Spruce

 

 

 

A Champion Larch in City Park

The Colorado Tree Coalition publishes a list of state championship trees. It also has a map of a tree tour of notable Ft. Collins trees.http://coloradotrees.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Notable_FtCollins.pdf

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The Championship Larch on Jackson Street, November 2017

Yes, we have a State Champion tree in City Park. The European Larch is an impressive tree and once you know what it looks like, easy to find. This particular tree is hidden in with a bunch of conifers. What distinguishes a larch from other conifers? It’s deciduous and loses it leaves, which the uninitiated would call needles. The big tree isn’t the only example of a larch in the park. There is a recently planted–in the last ten or fifteen years—larch just behind the Kentucky Coffeetree. This second tree is tall and spindly while the champion tree is tall, sturdy, and spooky looking.

The distribution of the European larch, which is an introduced, non-native tree, is, as you may have guessed, the eastern part of the US and Canada. Its range is less than the many other trees reported on so far. North American Trees reports European Larch “is planted and sometimes escapes”! According to the 1932 pamphlet European Larch in the Northeastern United States by Stuart Hunt, larch was introduced into England in 1629 and into the US in the mid 1800s, in both cases for lumber.  If you are a fan of the Great British Bake-off, you might have noticed a larch outside the baking tent. The largest larch in the world may be one in Switzerland which also may be 900 years old! It makes our larch look like an anemic relative by comparison.

Many authors report larch wood is fire resistant and was used in Roman ship and bridge building for that reason. Current uses include utility poles, veneer,  boat building, furniture, and fencing. The pitch can be tapped to be used as a varnish and for waterproofing boats and roofs. The bark has been used medicinally or ground and added to flour.  Another source mentions Siberians collected the leaves, fermented them and used them as a salad in winter.

The larch also has a place in mythology and pagan rituals, as well wand material in Harry Potter. Larches may be planted for cremation ceremonies, used to ward off evil spirits or burned to inhale the smoke and promote visions.

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Looking up through the branches the tree truly does look magical.

To find our champion Larix decidua (E117) park near the corner of Jackson and Oak. The five-way corner at the NE entrance to the park forms a triangle on the S side of the stone entrance with the row of trees being one side. In the center of these conifers is the Larch. It is probably easiest to locate when its leaves are yellowed and before they all fall, making it a good tree to find in the late fall/early winter.  The tree is across from 210 Jackson. 

 

 

 

 

 

 


	

Leaf First–The Tulip Tree

The bark may have been used as an aphrodisiac.

Another deciduous tree native to the eastern half of the US and Canada, Liriodendron tulipifera is a tall, relatively fast growing tree, which may grow to 90-120′. The same source (North American Trees, Preston and Braham ) says it matures in 200-250 years! Sometimes it is called a Yellow Poplar, although it is in the magnolia family.

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Tulip tree leaf. Some say these look like women’s tee shirts.Ohers think they resemble a tulip flower.

I first found a leaf, the shape of which I couldn’t identify. It had drifted near the Kentucky Coffeetree but didn’t come from any of the other trees nearby. It took me awhile to find the matching tree behind a number of conifers along City Park Drive. It took even longer to figure out the name of the tree as it is sometimes difficult to match the identified dots on the map with trees, which may be unmarked or have a difficult tag to locate. The branches of the Tulip Tree are far above my head, a trait the USDA states is typical. Another identifying feature is the straightness of the trunk. North American Trees says this is one of the tallest and widest trees in the east.

On the Wood Database site, the lumber for this tree is listed under Yellow Poplar, although its latin name, Liriodendron tulipfera, identifies it as the correct tree. The wood from these trees has been used for berry buckets and canoes, as well as lumber. It also makes good kindling for a fire. Although the wood’s utility as kindling would seem to contradict it, logs have been used to build cabins and the bark was used for roofing. North American Trees suggests the wood may also be made into coffins. Others have used the bark to produce rope. Although one source says the flower buds taste like turpentine, squirrels apparently are partial to them.

Over the years this tree had a number of medicinal uses. As with many trees, a powder made of the bark had been used for “digestive problems” as well as arthritis. Leaves and buds have been used as poultices on burns and for other skin ailments. One of the most interesting uses of the tree bark was as an aphrodisiac either chewed or brewed into a bitter tea. Another helpful use of the bark was as a substitute for quinine, used to treat malaria. At least one contemporary author wondered how a Tulip Tree and Tonic would taste!

Most resources do not mention this tree as a good source of food, although this video  suggests there is a treat hidden in the flowers. Although I walk past this specimen many times a week, I can’t say I ever noticed the spring flowers. This might be because the first branches are far above my head. I am not likely to be able to grab a branch to sip the nectar as the woman in the short video does!

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The bark and leaves

LOCATION. The Tulip Tree is B113 on the Arboretum map. I wasn’t able to find the tag on the tree. The easiest way to locate the tree is probably by finding a leaf under it, as well as viewing the photo below. This tree is slightly south and west of the redbud. You might enter the park through the stone entry and walk the wrong down the one-way street.  The street curb can be

 

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Tulip Tree forefront. Conifers behind it

seen in the photo above. From the entry, this may be the closest large tree to the road on the North side.

Finding the Purple Smoke Tree

The Tree’s name comes from the clusters of flowers, which resemble puffs of purple smoke.

I had never heard of the Purple Smoke Tree.  It is listed as one of the more unusual trees in the park.  We didn’t take the map with us, as I thought I knew where it was located–behind the Maintenance Shop, not far from Shelter #8. Memory–or the map–was deceiving because we couldn’t find the tree!

What is shown as the Maintenance Shop on the drawing happens to also be the Parks Office. Luckily it was before five, so I asked after the tree at the front desk. Megan knew where it was and was nice enough to show me. With its bushiness, you might have to spend a bit of time locating the tag! Apparently this tree has been introduced to the North American continent.

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Megan by the Purple Smoke Tree

As you can imagine, the tree wasn’t at its prime this late in the year. The tree’s name comes from the clusters of flowers, which are said to resemble puffs of purple smoke. Even in the fall, some of the stalk clusters still have a purple tinge.

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Smoke Tree “puff”

The green leaves had a sheen and felt tough, like thin leather. Other leaves had a purplish cast.

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Unlike other trees reviewed so far, this one doesn’t have many uses other than as an ornamental. The tree produces a yellow dye and the wood has been used for fenceposts. (North American Trees, Preston and Braham, 2002)

LOCATION  To find E3 Purple Smoke Tree (Cotinus coggyrria) go to the most southwest area of the park, across from Sheldon Lake. Locate the fire station on N. Bryan Ave. There is an alley on the south side and you can walk or drive down this. The tree is then on the southeast corner of front lawn of the Parks building. You can also access this tree by taking the road to the Golf Shop. Turn between the fire station and Parks Building. The specimen is in the far corner of the lawn. 

Eat your Redbud

Who knew the Redbud is both beautiful and edible, too?

 

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Blooming Redbud near a City Park exit

Ceres canadensis, the Eastern Redbud, is not native to Colorado. The native distribution is, as you probably guessed, the eastern half of the continent. As this map shows one of the western boundaries to be Nebraska, it might not be surprising that the many trees planted in Fort Collins appear to be hardy if planted in an appropriate spot. In spring the twigs and branches are covered with small red buds without any leaves. The buds then flower with petals colored from red to fuchsia. Some mentions of lavender are also made. When leaves appear, they are heart-shaped. The twists and turns of the branches give the Redbud a distinctly spreading, artistic form. An alternate name for the tree is The Judas Tree.

Redbuds, like the Soapberry and the Kentucky Coffeetree, are in the pea family. Similarly to the Soapberry, saponins are mentioned when discussing the ediblity of parts of the Redbud. Most sources do not suggest any parts are poisonous. Surprisingly, websites mention the buds and flowers can be used in salads or even added to cupcakes!  There are a number of videos on youtube about using the flowers and other parts of the tree as food. Another idea is pickling the buds to end up with a product similar to a caper. The fresh seed pods may also be edible. Other uses for this understory tree include using the red roots for a dye. The bark can be used to make an astringent tea for medicinal purposes. Native Americans were reported to use a tea of the bark as a whooping cough cure. The roots, too, were used to concoct cures for various ailments according the the USDA’s webpage.

Although spectacular as the earliest blooming tree in spring, the redbud has visual interest throughout the year. We’ll plan to add some photos of seasonal interest. I also hope to report on the taste of the flowers and buds next spring. Luckily, I have a small example of this tree in my yard. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be much of a bloomer, producing but a few buds and flowers each year.

The tagged tree is E117 on the Self-Guided Tour list. 

PA080001 The trunk of this specimen is split with a fungus growing up the gash in the tree. To find it, start at the corner of Jackson and Oak. You could park in the fourth or fifth parking slot on Oak and walk south toward the diagonal road a few yards. It is the largest of the smaller understory trees in that corner of the park. The split trunk is east facing. 

Although this is the only identified Redbud on the map, there are others in the park. It took quite a bit of staring at the map for me to figure out that the Redbuds seen at the top of the page are not the identified tree. The one featured blooming in the photo above is very close to the stone wall. The tagged tree is bit southwest and is a much larger version.

 If you were to walk along City Park Drive (the one-way diagonal road running east-west) to the intersection of  Sheldon Drive, you would encounter two other large older redbuds and their spreading branches. These have long been two of my favorite trees in the park.

Redbuds at the intersection of Sheldon and City Park Drives
Redbuds at the intersection of Sheldon and City Park Drive

 

 

Kentucky Coffeetree: What about those Pods!

 

We often have stubby pods littering our sidewalk. I thought they grew on a neighbor’s tree, but apparently they originate from the Kentucky Coffeetree. This tree is practically straight across the street from my house yet, I never really noticed it until I started this blog. The specimen in the park is tall so some details are difficult to discern from the ground.

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View of the Kentucky Coffeetree week of September 26, 2017

 

When studying the tree this afternoon, I noticed a cluster of green pods. When I checked the ground, there were a few brown pods directly under the tree. Apparently they fall in the spring and these are leftovers. Cracking open the leathery skin, the first thing I noticed was how sticky they are. The round seeds, about the size of a dime, are contained in  white and green pulp that looks like an insect cocoon. Not only is the pulp sticky, the seeds are PA010079as well.

There are a number of stories about how the tree got its name related to a use for the seeds. Basically, they involve someone brewing the seeds to make a drink similar to coffee. Some say Native Americans made a brew but didn’t call it coffee. Others suggest settlers copied the Native Americans and called it coffee, while others say the practice became popular after the Civil War. There are debates on the web about the taste. Some say it is awful, others prefer it to coffee. Everyone stresses that unless roasted, the seeds, as well as other parts of the tree, are poisonous. Because these trees are not plentiful in Colorado, it is unlikely that anyone locally would be able to collect enough of the pods to actually use to make a beverage. The cleaning and roasting needed is enough to discourage me from trying with my two pods.

The USDA also mentions that there are reports that the tree can be poisonous to cows and other animals. Native Americans may have used the pods to stun fish so they were easier to catch by hand. Most medicinal uses involve laxatives with the caution that the tree, like the Soapberry from the previous post, contains saponins and may have been used to make soap as well.

A far better use of the tree–although NOT of the tree in the park!–might be for lumber. For a picture of the heartwood and information about the lumber, see The Wood Database.  The wood is rated as a good firewood. Fenceposts made from the trees are long-lasting. Possibly these uses of the tree have contributed to it becoming more rare.

The deciduous tree is usually 60-75 feet tall at maturity, but a championship tree has been measured at 120′ tall. It has bi-pinnated compound leaves which are said to be the largest of any native tree. (I think I need to measure it against a Catalpa leaf!)

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One Compound Leaf?

Most sources say these leaves turn yellow and drop early in the fall. This is hard to determine at the moment as very few of the leaves in the park have even started to turn as of October 2nd. One of the twenty or so alternate names for this tree is dead tree, possibly due to the fact that the tree can remain without buds or foliage for up to six months, with only clusters of seed pods clacking in the wind. Again, this tree is right across the street from my house and I never noticed its fall color or its late onset of new leaves. I certainly will be on the lookout now!

From the USDA distribution map, it looks like this tree could once be found in most of the eastern half of the US and Canada. Kansas is the westernmost border. Other maps show this member of the pea family as being less common than the USDA map indicates, possibly due to loss of habitat and minimal use as an ornamental.

Location: The Kentucky Coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus) is B110 on the Self-Guided Tree Tour. As can be seen from the photo above, it is possible to park right in front of it. It is on the northern edge of the park, along Oak Street. At the corner of Jackson and Oak, head west and stop across from the fourth house on the opposite side of the street.

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Kentucky Coffeetree bark is rough and grayish in color.