Curlleaf Mountain Mahogany

December 05, 2012


Photographer: Stu Witmer
Summary Author: Stu Witmer

The photo above shows a Curlleaf Mountain Mahogany tree growing in Great Basin National Park, Nevada. In the background is Wheeler Peak. At 13,063 ft (3,982 m), it's the tallest mountain completely in Nevada.  Wheeler Peak contains the only glacier in the state. This is a rock glacier rather than an icefield. It's located in the notch that can be seen near the center of the photo.

One of the features of this National Park is a 12 mi (19 km) scenic drive that takes you through several ecological zones with a gain of over 4,000 ft (1,220 m). The mahogany forest begins at an altitude of about 8,500 ft (2,590 m). I had always thought mahogany was a tree of the tropical forests and was quite surprised to discover mahogany in this climate. As it turns out, these mahoganies are widespread and are found in nearly all the western United States. They're not related to tropical mahoganies but are part of the rose family. The curlleaf’s scientific name (Cercocarpus ledifolius) is derived from the Greek meaning "tailed fruit" because of theCurlleaf-trunk corkscrew-like tail on the fruit. The aromatic evergreen leaves last for two years and are generally about an inch (2.5 cm) long with edges that are rolled under, hence the name. Normally the curlleaf is a shrub, but it can become a tree with several trunks to 25 ft (7.6 m) tall. The wood is extremely hard and dense, so it burns slowly and produces an intense heat. This made it a prime candidate for ore smelting operations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Goshute Indians made bows from this wood and it has been used in cabinetry as well as for roller skate wheels. Curllfeaf is a favorite with browsing animals large and small including Black Tail and Mule deer that browse the leaves and porcupines who eat the bark. Larger stands provide excellent cover in winter and can be very difficult for humans to hike through due to the gnarly trunks and root systems (insert). Thanks to Great Basin National Park Rangers Jennifer Walgrave and Joseph Whelan for information they provided about the curlleaf. Photo taken October 16, 2012.

Photo Details: Main - Camera: Canon PowerShot SD1300 IS; Focal Length: 5.0mm; Aperture: f/2.8; Exposure Time: 0.0025 s (1/400); ISO equiv: 80. Inset - Same except Exposure Time: 0.033 s (1/30); ISO equiv: 100.