The Invasive Christmas Tree–the Scotch Pine

A Scotch Pine has never been used as the Capitol Christmas tree.

Every list of tree species used as Christmas trees seems to include the Scotch or Scots Pine, latin name Pinus sylvestris. At least one list considers it the most popular tree in the States, while others list it as the most popular pine but 8th most popular conifer overall. The National Christmas Tree Association does say it is the most popular tree for the holiday season.

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The distinctive two needle packets of the Scotch pine.

The Scots pine is the most widely distributed pine in the world, with its range stretching across Europe and into Asia, or as many sources say, from the Arctic to the Mediterranean. Although not often used as lumber in the US, that is a common use throughout Europe.

The species was introduced into North America in the 17th century.  It has naturalized throughout most of Canada and the northeast United States. In fact, it has been so successful in some areas, it is considered invasive. Wisconsin considers it such but currently does not regulate it. The Ontario Parks blog has a headline “Don’t Deck the Halls with Scots Pine for Christmas”.

According to the gymnosperm website, the use of this variety of pine as a Christmas tree is mostly a custom in the United States. This same site says the Scots pine is the second most common conifer world-wide after the common juniper. To sell as a Christmas tree, the Scots pine is grown on tree farms for six to eight years before reaching a height of 7-8 feet. The trees normally last for three or four weeks and even when not watered, they usually don’t drop their needles. More than one source says this conifer accounts for 10% of Christmas tree sales. Although these are popular in the home, a Scotch pine has never been used as the Capitol Christmas tree.

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The Scots pine in City Park

While parts of the tree are edible and can be ground down to a meal to add to oatmeal or flour, it is considered a food of last resort. Like many other plants, it has a long list of conditions for which it is reputed to have a medicinal effect, including respiratory problems. Not surprisingly, the leaves have been used as an antiseptic.

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Cone from a Scotch Pine

The Scots pine is the national tree of Scotland. Although many will tell of the days when Scotland was covered by the Caledonian forest, made up of Pinus sylvestris, this version is disputed by the Scottish historian Christopher Smout. Still, as the only native pine in the UK, it has many uses, including telephone poles, source of turpentine, and fencing. A large stand of the pines was used for WWII commando training as well as in a Harry Potter movie. This group of Scots Pine has recently been saved by the Scottish Land Trust and local residents, hoping to use it as a tourist site. There are about 77 remnants of the Caledonian forest, with about nine of them easily accessible.

Many sources say these trees can live to 700 years. The oldest known tree is in Finland and dates back 764 years. The tallest tree is about half the height of an average Redwood.

To find (E55) Scotch Pine (Pinus sylvestris) on the Fort Collins City Park self-guided tour, head to the intersection of Bryan and Oak Streets. The large conifer is on the east side of the ditch, directly behind the speed limit sign. See the photo above.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eastern White Pines:Suitable for Christmas or Rebellion?

What type of tree will you select for your Christmas tree this year?

What kind of tree do you think of when someone says natural Christmas tree? I suspect many of us think of a pine tree. Oddly, the most common trees used aren’t pines but firs and spruces. Pines do make the list of common or best trees, but only a few species are routinely used. In England the lodgepole pine is mentioned as a choice! In the U.S. two or three species are mentioned, probably dependent on what part of the country you live in.

Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)
Eastern White Pine

Eastern White Pines (Pinus storbus) are native to North America and found from Minnesota south to Arkansas and east. This is the state tree of both Maine and Michigan. Considered the tallest native pine in the east, modern day trees are dwarfed by other trees in the genus, such as the Ponderosa and sugar pine. The single largest specimen,  which can be found in Maine, is 132′ tall and has a circumference of 229 inches. The normal life expectancy of this species is about 200 years, although a fossilized log found in Ontario included 407 rings.

Most of the virgin forests have been logged, although the species is planted for reforestation. White pine timber has been used to build boats, furniture, and buildings. In the 1700s the trees were harvested to provide masts for the Royal Navy, thus leading to the Pine Tree Riot of 1772.

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Trunk of an Eastern White Pine

Beyond their use as building materials and firewood, the white pine provided resin in the building of canoes. The sap was used as an antiseptic and chemicals found in white pine may still be used as ingredients in anti congestion medications. The Healing Power of Plants website also includes the information that a component chemical in white pines may be useful in combating LDL cholesterol. At least one site mentions the seeds were used to cure meats, and the cambium could be ground into a flour. This was used by both early settlers and Native American populations. Early blackboards were often made of white pine painted black.

The Eastern white pine is usually included on lists of trees sold for Christmas. One possible advantage to its use is it tends to hold onto its needles longer than other conifers.

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Needles on an Eastern White Pine showing the clusters of five

They also have little aroma, which makes them  a good choice for those who have sensitivities. But they are very full, bushy trees and their branches cannot accommodate heavy ornaments.

A white pine has only been used as the Capitol Christmas tree, also known as the People’s tree, twice in the fifty-four year history of the program. In both 1968 and 69 PARTs of an Eastern white pine were used. Although still listed as being a species used as a Christmas tree, even in Michigan it seems to have fallen out of favor. A recent study rated it #7 in acreage planted.

To find this (164) specimen, head to the southwest corner of City Park and Mulberry. It should be easy to find between the two handicapped parking signs  seen in the photo above.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Tree to Bloom–Cornelian Cherries. Fit For Pigs or a Revived Food Source?

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.

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Cornelian Cherry in bloom March 23, 2018

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.

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Flowers of the Cornelian Cherry Tree

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.

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The trunk and bark of Cornus mas.

 

 

 

 

 

Junipers–Edible, Medicinal, Drinkable, Literary, and Magical!

Want a suggestion on how to make a Bloody Mary without alcohol?

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Bark of the Rocky Mountain Juniper

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.

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Rocky Mountain Juniper

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.

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Twigs and leaves of Rocky Mountain Juniper

 

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 Newsletter says 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.

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One-seed Juniper
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Leaves and cones of the One-seed Juniper

 

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.

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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!

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The grayer bark of the Utah Juniper

 

I’ve been aware of a literary journal called Alligator Juniper for some time and always thought it was an odd name until I learned it was named after the Alligator Juniper tree.

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Alligator Juniper

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.

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The patchy, scaly bark of the Alligator Juniper

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.

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Male pollen cones on the Alligator Juniper three

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 scopulorumFind 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. 

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Look closely to see the brown pollen and the blue seed cones of the Utah Juniper

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.