Mighty Little Giant Sequoia Tree

The leaves of this tree are sharp enough they hurt!

No big surprise, but Giant Sequoias are only native to California. This species of the Cupressaceae family is the only member of its genus Sequoiadendron. The trees are also called big tree and Sierra Redwood. They are so large, they often have monikers. The largest standing today is the General Sherman which has a volume of 52,500 cubic feet and is over 274 feet tall. Due to their height and trunk volume, these trees are often referred to as the largest living things on earth. General Sherman is not the tallest known Giant Sequoia. The tallest is said to be over 300 feet and grows in a known grove but the exact tree is not specified. Sequoias may also be some of the most long-lived, as the oldest one by stump count in 1870 was 3266 years.

As this tree grows fast even in old age, it is possible the General Sherman will get both taller and wider! Although Giant Sequoias would provide a lot of wood per tree, most of them are protected. Once used for fenceposts, their wood is rot resistant but also brittle, making it less than ideal for building. The local Native Americans, members of the Tule River Tribe, did use the wood for fenceposts and crafts, but instead of felling the trees, they utilized downed wood. After the white man discovered the Sequoia, many were lumbered, eventually leading the preserved groves to be added to the National Park System. 

North American Trees (Preston and Braham, 2002) mention that a “dark red pigment in ink” can be obtained from the cones. One advantage of having a smaller tree in the park is you can feel the leaves, which I think are the prickliest of the conifers. They hurt!

Pointed leaves of the sequoia

This short video discusses the lifecycle of the sequoias.  At one time the conditions for these trees to grow may have existed as far east as Colorado. Changes to the climate affecting California may not bode well for the Sequoias as well as other other trees. In 2017 the Pioneer Cabin Tree, which you could drive through, fell during a severe rainstorm.

The young Giant Sequoia

Sequoias have been planted elsewhere in the world, including Denmark and France. In the mid 1800s, Giant Sequoias were a popular addition to English castle gardens, where conditions appear to be ideal. Some of the largest specimens in Europe can be found in Great Britain. In the relatively few tree-years since then, some specimens have acquired height of around half the tallest in the US. Another group of trees which were planted in Denmark to help with reforestation, where killed in the winter of 1942. Today many visitors from around the world take home seeds to grow the trees.


To find B116 Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) go to the triangle formed at Oak, Jackson, and City Park. In this area is a stone bench. If you were to sit on the bench facing south you would be looking toward the Giant Sequoia, which is parallel to the lamp post. 

Close up of the young Giant Sequoia’s bark.

Douglas Fir–an Imposter?

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.

The tagged Douglas Fir in City Park

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.

Douglas Fir cone

The cones are distinctive with their fringy ends and have their own legend on how they got to look that way!P1030518





Like the true firs (Abies), needles are flat.

Flat needles with white stripes

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.














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

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.

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. 








The R2D2 Prototype–Weeping Mulberry Trees

The mulberry fruit might be considered a nutritional powerhouse.

Great backyard tree for hide and seek.

I ate mulberries for the first time three or four years ago. When I first saw them at the farmers’ market, I thought they were blackberries, which is pretty much what they taste like. I’ve looked every year since, but the person who was selling them hasn’t been back. The truth is, I didn’t even know they grew on trees. When I mentioned I’d love to have a tree, people in the know gave me horrified looks. “They’re messy.”  “They stain everything,” were common refrains.

There are ten species of mulberry tree, with three native to parts of North America.  Although I have memories of purple-black splots on sidewalks under trees, I don’t believe I knew these were from a fruit bearing tree. White Mulberries (Morus alba) were originally brought to this continent from China with the intent to start a silkworm industry. According to the USDA, the white tree has been introduced and grown in all of the lower 48 states except Nevada. The red mulberry (Morus rubra) is native to the eastern half of this continent. In some areas, the white mulberry may be considered invasive. One way to tell the two species apart is by the shiny leaves of the white mulberry.

Shiny leave

Not only are mulberries yummy, they could be considered a nutritional powerhouse as they are relatively high in protein, contain high levels of Vitamin C and iron, as well as numerous other potentially beneficial nutrients. Compounds such as anthocyanins, may exhibit cholesterol lowering properties. Rutin, an antioxidant, may help guard against heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. Myricetin, too, may play a role fighting some cancers. Other websites attribute even more wondrous properties to the mulberry fruit, such as an aid in weight loss, vision improvement, and bone building. Although this might be a property of a different variety of Morus tree, another source mentions the fruit is a source of resveratrol, that miracle compound of red wine much ballyhooed a few years ago.

The weeping mulberry tree, Morus alba Pendula, is a dwarf variety of the Chinese tree. Some of the gardening sites on the web discuss this tree as a good provider of shade, but except for fighting your way through the branches–which you might have to do to find the identifying tag–the versions in the park wouldn’t seem to provide much shade. Although I had not been paying close attention to the two specimens during the spring when they would have fruited, I have stopped and looked at these trees over the years and have never seen flowers or fruit. I suspect they may both be male specimens of the tree. Next year I will be sure to confirm the absence of the fruit.

To view the two in the park go to C190. If you spent time at the Tulip Tree, keep walking west along the diagonal. The two stubby trees are on the south side of City Park Drive, not far from the intersection with Sheldon Drive. If you are driving to the park, turn N off Mulberry onto Sheldon Drive and at the intersection of the two streets, take a right turn along the diagonal. The trees are West of Field 4 and across from the “permanent” latrine.

As an ornamental tree, the weeping mulberry is visually interesting without its leaves. If you are looking for this tree in late fall or winter, look for a form like an open umbrella with too many twisted spines and no cloth covering.

What shapes can you see in the trunk?

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.

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!

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


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.

Smoke Tree
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.

Smoke Tree “puff”

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


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.