Catalpa—the Fish Bait Tree

Some consider the long seed pods and large leaves of this tree to be messy

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Flower from a Northern Catalpa

The genus Catalpa contains ten or eleven (North American Trees, 5th Edition) different species of trees. The Chinese variety, Catalpa ovata, which is on the City Park tree tour, is a native of China but has been introduced in the eastern part of North America.

Two species are native to this continent, Catalpa Speciosa and the southern version, Catalpa bignonioides Walt. Even though neither of the other species is tagged in the park, I am going to discuss them because catalpas are one of my favorites. The trees look very similar with their large leaves and long bean-like seed pods. Each also has clusters of flowers, with the native trees blooming earlier with larger blossoms than the Chinese variety.

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Developing leaf of the catalpa.

The Northern Catalpa (C. speciosa) is native to all but eight western states and Florida and has been introduced into Ontario. The Northern Catalpa is the largest of the three trees, normally growing to 60′. The National Champion tree in Indiana is 78′ and  with a 81′ crown spread. C. bignonioides, the southern catalpa, has a range which overlaps that of the northern. It can be found in most of the states where the larger tree doesn’t grow as well as in North Dakota. Although the Southern catalpa is normally only 30-40′ in height (The Tree Book, Dirr and Warren, 2019) the champion tree listed in 2017 is not much smaller than its northern counterpart (75′ x 82′).

The moniker fish-bait tree technically applies to the southern variety of this tree, but the catalpa doesn’t want for other names. They include the cigar-tree, Catawba, Indian-bean tree, caterpillar tree, and Western Catalpa, with the Northern and Southern species sometimes sharing the same alternate name.

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The developing leaves of the Chinese Catalpa with a few of the seed pods from last year

The wood of the northern tree has been used as railroad ties, trim carpentry, telephone poles, fences, and furniture. The southern catalpa wood has been used for similar purposes, but its most interesting use is in plantations where it is grown to attract the the catalpa sphinx moth, which is used for fish bait! (The Tree Book, Dirr and Warren, 2019).

Bark from C. Bignonioides has been used to treat malaria. Other parts of the plant have been used for medical reasons, including the roots, although the current writeup from the USDA includes a warning in red that the roots of this plant are poisonous!  Plants for the Future rates only the Chinese Catalpa as having possible edibility. The USDA does warn that the native trees may be invasive and weedy. Many people complain that the seed pods are messy and many don’t like the large leaves. My feeling is that the larger leaves make them easier to pick up! Even the New York Times took up the case of the catalpa with the story of its spread in the 19th century.

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Bark of the Chinese catalpa

The Chinese Catalpa is smaller than the native trees. An  additional use of its wood is in the making of a traditional Chinese instrument, the Qin.

The Chinese catalpa C 175 in the City Park Arboretum is along Sheldon Drive, just south of the Indian Magic Crabapple on the eastern side of the road, catty corner from the latrine on the west side of the road. The catalpa trees in town seem to leaf out and flower late in the season, so much so that if you own one, you start to worry it has died, yet the Chinese catalpa is even later. It looks quite scraggly even this late in June this year.

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The Chinese catalpa in mid June

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Limber Pine—Branches Flexible Enough You can Tie them in Knots

The tree grows under conditions which may prove too harsh for other species.

Limber pine (Pinus flexilis) is another species which may be susceptible to damage from the pine beetle. Like most other trees, this species has a number of alternate names, including Rocky Mountain pine. This conifer is native to the western states as well as the two westernmost Canadian providences.

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Trunk of the limber pine

In Colorado, it is found from elevations of 5000′ to 12,000′.  It is also native to Utah where it is reported to grow from elevations of 4000′  to 11000′. Limber pine in North Dakota grow below 3000′. The groves of trees in North Dakota are thought to have arisen from seeds carried to the area by various Native Americans.

Limber pine survive stressors which may prove too harsh for other species. For instance, it is able to grow under dry conditions. The bendable property of its branches may allow it to survive in avalanche prone areas and this trait may help with slope stabilization as well as runoff control. Limber pines also have deep taproots, which help with resistance to wind. This species provide food for rodents and birds, such as the Clark’s Nutcracker. In turn the seeds are too large to be blown far by the wind; birds, then are a means of distribution. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Although lumber from Pinus flexilis is of little commercial value today, in the past it was used in mines, as railroad ties, and as firewood. In herbal medicine the resin may be used like that of other pines—as an antiseptic and to help with respiratory conditions. The seeds can also serve as a food source for humans.

Limber pines are a long-lived species, which may not reach maturity until 200 years. (North American Trees, Preston and Braham.) Some of the oldest trees may be well over 1500 years. Even though some members of this species grow on windy ridges causing  twisting and stunting, others may approach sixty feet in height.

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Leaves of the limber pine

Pinus flexilis belongs to the the group of pines with their needles in bundles of five. These leaves grow to be between 2.5 and 3.5 inches in length. The female cones are green prior to maturity and may grow as long as seven inches.

Like many conifers of the mountain west, the limber pine may be affected by climate change and damage by various pests, including mountain pine beetles; a fungus which causes white pine blister rust; and drawf mistletoe. The fungus spread from Asia to Europe in the 1860s. It made its appearance in Wyoming on limber pines in 1970 and by the late 1990s was found in Colorado as well.

To find the tagged LIMBER PINE (Pinus flexilis) in the arboretum, C182, start near the SE corner of Sheldon Drive and City Park. A row of trees, including ashes and conifers, runs more or less parallel to City Park Drive. The limber pine is in the middle of a small cluster of conifers. In the middle of an open area is a park bench which is west of this small grove of trees. Another landmark might be the exercise station near this same corner. You could walk from there along the row of trees to find the pine. 

This specimen was planted in 1981 when it had a diameter of 8″. In the flesh it does not appear quite as scraggly as it does in the winter photo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Many Names Can a Tree Have? The Alaska Cedar

There may be 36 or more common names for this tree!

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The Alaskan Cedar

The Alaska Cedar is native to the North American continent. This tree exemplifies the classification confusion that strikes amateur tree lovers. On the City Park tour guide (revised 2015) the Alaska Cedar, also called the yellow cedar, nootka Cypress, Stinking Cypress, and Yellow-cypress, the nomenclature is given as Chamaecyparis nootkatensis. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees, Western Region (1994), and the 2002 edition of North American Trees  (Preston and Graham) agree with this designation, but the Gymnosperm Database lists the same tree as Cupressus nootkatensis while The Sibley Guide to Trees (Sibley, 2009) calls it Callitropsis nootkatensis. The USDA site classifies it as Family Cupressaceae (Cypress Family), genus Callitropsis (Nootka Cypress), species Callitropsis nootkatensis. The U.S. Forest Service lists THIRTY-SIX different names for this same tree! For the moment, I will just call it the Alaska Cedar  and let the botanists argue. The University of British Columbia discusses this same dilemma and solves the problem by using the nomenclature C. nootkatensis.

Although some sites list this tree as growing for 300 years, conifers.org states the oldest tree has a ring count of 1834 and lists the tallest as a specimen in British Columbia of over 200 feet. The lumber of the tree has been used for exterior purposes such as shingles, decking, and posts. A few sources mention the crushed leaves of this tree do not smell good. When used as firewood, the wood has a high BTU output. Wikipedia mentions that a tree may last 100 years as firewood! Seems like it would have to be a very large specimen, though. Some of the unusual uses it has been put to is as stadium seating and toys.

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Alaska Cedar leaves

The Alaska Cedar may be another victim of climate change as a large number of these trees in Canada have died off in the last 100 years. This blog explains that the suspected cause of the die off is that these cedars have shallow roots that are susceptible to freezing, which can kill the tree. As the climate warms, the snowpack is not as deep or melts off early, leaving the roots exposed to cold night time temperatures.

 

The Weeping Alaska Cedar is a cultivar usually used for landscaping purposes. For its scientific name, add Pendula to your preferred name for the Alaska Cedar. It is thought that it can be grown in most of the United States.

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Bark of the Weeping Alaska Cedar
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Branch showing both hard green female cones and smaller male cones.Th

 

The Alaska Cedar on the current Self-Guided Tour in City Park, Fort Collins, is E63. To find Chamaecyparis nootkatensis, head to Club Taco near the pool at the intersection of City Park and S. Bryan drive. This tree can be found across the street where the ditch and the fence around the miniature railroad tracks nearly form an angle. It is not known when this tree was planted.

The Weeping Alaska Cedar (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis Pendula) is located along Jackson Ave, across from 222 Jackson, near one of the exercise stations. This cultivar was planted in 1997. 

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Weeping Alaska Cedar

 

 

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!

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.