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Curl-leaf Mountain Mahogany
Cercocarpus ledifolius Nutt. Ex Torr. & Gray
Scientific Name Synonyms:
Life Span: Perennial
Growth Characteristics: A shrub to small tree with 1 to several trunks. It grows, on average, 3 to 15 feet tall, but can reach up the 35 feet tall. It characteristically grows in scattered patches. Flowers May to July and reproduces from seeds.
Flowers/Inflorescence: The flowers lack petals, and are found either solitary or in clusters of 2 to 3 in the leaf axils. Tube-shaped.
Fruits/Seeds: Fruit is a hard, narrow, and sharp-pointed achenes. The seed is tipped with a persistent feathery style, which is corkscrew-like and enables the seed to penetrate the ground. Curlleaf mountain mahogany begins producing fruit at 15 years.
Leaves: Alternate, sometimes appearing clustered. They are resinous and aromatic. The blades are lance-shaped with rolled margins. The leaf has a prominent midvein, with a dark green top and a paler, rusty to white hairy underside.
Stems: Twigs are stiff. The bark is reddish-brown, and deeply grooved.
Curlleaf mountain mahogany is found on hills, rocky slopes, and rocky ridges, and in canyons. It is somewhat shade tolerant.
Soils: Adapted to a wide range of soil textures, most abundant in dry coarse-textured soils.
Associated Species: Snowberry, Rocky Mountain juniper, big sagebrush.
Uses and Management:
Curlleaf mountain-mahogany is good forage for all classes of browsing animals in both summer and winter; it is one of the few browse species that meets or exceeds the protein requirements for wintering big game animals.
In mature stands, much of curlleaf mountain-mahogany foliage is out of reach of browsing animals but provides excellent winter cover.
The wood of curlleaf mountain mahogany is so hard and dense that it will not float. It provides excellent fuel, producing intense heat and burning for long periods. Because curlleaf mountain-mahogany wood burns slowly, it was the preferred charcoal wood used for smelting ores in the nineteenth century. It is also highly prized as a barbecue fuel.
The Goshute Indians of Utah made bows from this wood.
Because of its tolerance to heat and drought, curlleaf mountain-mahogany can be used for water-efficient landscaping in arid environments.