Some consider the long seed pods and large leaves of this tree to be messy
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.
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.
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.
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 175in 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.
Three subspecies have been identified through-mitochondrial DNA.
What a surprise! The ponderosa pine is one of the first trees with a distribution in most of the WESTERN part of the US and part of Canada! According to National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees (Western Region,1980) this is the most widely distributed pine in the United States. Its range includes British Columbia. In Colorado the species covers about 2 million acres. The Colorado State Forest Service website, also says this is about 8 % of the forested area of the state. Ackerman mentions the tree grows from about 4600-9600 elevation. (Flora of Colorado, 2015.)
Like many of the other trees discussed in this blog, the ponderosa pine appears to be a complex species. Even its “discovery” may be controversial with some sources citing 1820 and others mentioning 1805 passages from Lewis & Clark Expedition. According to the Gymnosperm Database, three subspecies have been determined through mitochondrial DNA. The three varieties appear to have geographic distinctions, too. The groupings include the northernmost trees, Pacific trees, and the more interior trees. Chris Earle, the author of conifers.org, indicates there does not seem to be interbreeding where the northern family shares habitat with the Pacific group.
This species are normally tall, straight trees with the trunk free of lower branches.
The Ponderosa pine is one of the three highest producing lumber species in the western United States. Its wood is used for everything from veneer to construction. Apparently the trunks were sometimes used as flagpoles as at least one story of the origin of the name Flagstaff in Arizona, involves a ponderosa pine displaying the US flag.
The ponderosa pine provided Native Americans with food, medicine, and transportation in the form of canoes or snowshoes, as well as construction material and dyes. Almost the entire plant could be eaten. The many medicinal uses included the usual ointment for infections, skin conditions, and pain control. A less commonly mentioned use of tree parts in medicine was needles being tools for dermatological and gynecological reasons. The rosin left over after turpentine distillation is used on violin bows.
Male seed cones on Ponderosa pine
Female cones on Ponderosa pine with male cones in the background
Monumental Trees lists the oldest ponderosa, located in Yosemite, to be more than 1020, although a 1914 record of a tree in southwest Colorado was measured at 1047 years. As might be expected for a tree that is only native to North America, the United States also has the widest and tallest trees. The record for height is a tree in Oregon measured to be over 268 feet tall.
Wine glasses, fleur de lis, pencils and casket liners?
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.
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.
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″.
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.
Every year trees are brought to the nation’s capitol to adorn the Capitol lawn, outside the Whitehouse, and sometimes in the interior of the Whitehouse. The National Christmas Tree has been displayed, cut or planted, in the President’s Park as well as other spots. This tradition started in 1923. The most common tree used is a variety of spruce.
Although the U.S. Capitol Christmas Treetradition began before 1970, every year since then a different national forest has provided the tree. The White Spruce has been the tree of choice twelve times, the most of any single species. The tagged White Spruce (Picea glauca) in the City Park Arboretum near the intersection of City Park and Sheldon Drive is not only a native to Colorado, but a state champion tree. This tree probably does not call to mind a tree to decorate, though, as it is quite tall and somewhat spindly looking.
The USDA shows this species as having a very northern range, including Wyoming, but not Colorado. The Forest Service shows its range as even more restrictive. North American Trees (Preston and Braham, 2002) appears to agree with the USFS. The map on the Gymnosperm Database also shows the distribution as very northern, mostly Canada, but goes on to list a number of states where the tree is native, again Wyoming but not Colorado. North American Trees says these trees do not reach maturity until 250-300 years and the Gymnosperm Database says the oldest tree, growing in the Yukon, is over 668 years old.
White spruce lumber has been used for sounding boards in violins and other instruments, for pulp, general construction, and Christmas trees. The National Christmas Tree Association suggests their short needles make them ideal for hanging ornaments. I examined the branches of the tree I bought for my house this year, and I’m thinking it very well may be a white spruce.
The tree is significant for wild life and its roots were used by Native Americans to weave baskets and bind canoes. A British Columbian website includes making snowshoes and bows in its uses. Resin was turned into a gum to stick arrowheads to arrows. Like most of the other trees reported on thus far, this one, too, has medicinal properties, including antiseptic, respiratory, and wound care. It has also been investigated for its relation to diabetes!
This specimen (A94) can be located by studying the tall conifers at the Northeast corner of City Park and Sheldon Drive. There are ten trees on this corner, but only two of them are conifers. The more northern of the two is the tagged tree, although I suspect the second tree is also a white spruce.