Curl-leaf Mountain Mahogany in the Landscape

curl leaf mountain mahoganyJanuary 2009

Cercocarpus ledifolius


Curl-leaf mountain mahogany is a marvelous large shrub to small tree that would look good in any ornamental landscape, but is especially adapted for low-water landscapes. It is the only broadleaf evergreen tree in the Intermountain West, and as such it offers an interesting winter contrast to the standard landscape conifer. It achieves a rather gnarly and quite intriguing shape with age. Seeds have long, cork-screw, feather-like plumes that cover the tree, creating an almost fuzzy appearance from a distance. The leaves are distinctively aromatic, evergreen and, curled under, thus its common name. 

Cultural Requirements:

Native habitat Dry hills and rocky slopes throughout the West at elevations from 5,000 to 10,000 feet
Soil Well drained, tolerates poor soil conditions; prefers coarse, rocky slopes; pH 6.0 to 9.0
Cold Tolerance  Zones 3-8 
Drought Tolerance High 
Salt Tolerance Unknown
Sun/Shade Preference Full sun to part shade
Transplanting Deep tap root makes it difficult to transplant
Propagation Seed or hardwood stem cuttings
Maintenance Prune in winter; tolerates hedging or shearing 
Pest problems Browsed by deer

Landscape Value: 

Use in the Landscape Use as a screen or for reclamation, soil stabilization, cover for wildlife; becomes multi-stemmed as a seedling; it needs training to achieve a single-trunk tree form. 
Leaves Broadleaf evergreen; shiny, dark green and leathery 
Flowers Small, inconspicuous, pale rose
Apr May June July Aug Sept Oct
Fruit (seedheads)  Long, dry achene with a 2- to 3-inch plume attached 
Form Upright shrubby
Texture Coarse
Ultimate Size 8 to 15 feet 
Rate of Growth Slow
Plant Community Parkland, pinyon-juniper, shrub steppe, mountain brush 
Cultivars None of ornamental value


To start seed indoors soak seed in hydrogen peroxide for up to 24 hours. Rinse well. Cold, moist stratify for 30 to 60 days. Sow seed into container and cover with ¼ inch soil. To sow seed outdoors, use a generous amount of seed and cover with ¼ inch of soil. Sow in fall and watch for germinated seedlings the following spring. Cuttings should be collected in the spring from the previous season’s growth. 

Additional Photo:

Photo credits: Roger Kjelgren

curl leaf mountain mahogany

curl leaf mountain mahogany


  • Cerny, T., L. Rupp, C. Reid, and M. Kuhns. 2002. Selection and Culture of Landscape Plants in Utah: A guide for southwestern and central Utah. Utah State University Extension Bulletin HG 500.3 URL:
  • Mee, W., J. Barnes, R. Kjelgren, R. Sutton, T. Cerny, and C. Johnson. 2003. Waterwise: Native Plants for Intermountain Landscapes. Utah State University Press, Logan, UT.
  • Rupp, L., R. Kjelgren, J. Ernsten, and W. Varga. 1997. Shearing and Growth of Five Intermountain Native Shrub Species. Journal of Environmental Horticulture 15(3):123-125.
  • Zeidler, Scott; Justin, John. 2003. Propagation protocol for production of field-grown Cercocarpus ledifolius Nutt. plants (2+0); Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Land - Lone Peak Nursery, Draper, Utah. In: Native Plant Network. URL: (accessed 2 January 2009). Moscow (ID): University of Idaho, College of Natural Resources, Forest Research Nursery.
  • This fact sheet belongs to a series of fact sheets about Intermountain West native trees, shrubs, perennials, and grasses called “Native Plants in the Landscape.” Look for others in the series by visiting, then clicking on ‘Horticulture’ and ‘Native Plants’. 


Heidi Kratsch, Extension Ornamental Horticulture Specialist; Graham Hunter, Research Associate, Center for Water Efficient Landscaping

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