Sedona Westerners in the Red Rock News

November 6, 2009

Sedona Westerner's ask: "What tree is that?"


by Julie Zabilski

Are you new to Sedona and want to learn the names of some of the native trees and shrubs of the high desert and plateau? Have you been here for some years and still can’t tell the difference between the varieties of junipers and pines?

The Sedona Westerners Tracker group recently had an opportunity to identify and learn more about the native trees from Sedona to the Snowbowl above Flagstaff.

The Trackers have “educational” hikes about twice per month on a variety of interesting topics. In Tracker hikes, the hiking is secondary to the learning experience. This particular hike was led by veteran Westerner, Fred Johnson, who was a professional forester with the state of New York for many years. His expertise in dendrology, the study of tree classification, was evident throughout the day.

Leader Fred Johnson points to a Bristlecone pine at Snowbowl. Photo by Julie Zabilski.

The small but avid group started at the Posse Grounds to observe the common species of Junipers. The Utah juniper has frosty blue berry-like cones containing two seeds, which persist nearly all year. It also tends to emerge from the ground as a single trunk. The One-seed juniper generally has several trunks and has coppery berries, which are smaller, fleshier and contain only one seed.

Nearly everyone can recognize the more scarce Alligator juniper with its distinctive alligator-like bark. But many draw a blank on the Arizona cypress, a juniper relative. It has scaly leaves, but no berries. Instead it has large marble-sized cones that are brownish with little bumps, and a thin, peeling, papery bark.

At Sedona’s elevation, the dominant pine is the Pinyon pine, with its rather short needles in bunches of two. From 5000 to 8000 feet, the Ponderosa pine is most predominant, with its longer needles in groups of 3. It is a taller tree than the pinyon and is found in the canyons and up on the plateau.

At Indian Gardens Johnson deftly identified the Arizona sycamore with its smooth, whitish bark and large lobed leaves. The Velvet ash and the Lowell or Arizona ash with their opposite compound leaves and wing-like seeds in hanging clumps.

Also seen was the Box Elder of the maple family, the Narrowleaf Cottonwood, Netleaf Hackberry and the Elderberry, which is more a shrub than a tree.

Farther on up the canyon, the Trackers stopped to observe the native Emory oak and the Rocky Mountain juniper, with its very straight trunk, slightly droopy branch tips and smaller size than the Utah juniper. The presence of many Douglas firs signaled the beginning of the Fir and Gambel oak zone. Douglas firs are not true firs: the branches droop slightly, the cones are very small, and the needles are single with a slight constriction at the base of each needle. The Gambel oak is common above 5000 feet, is slow-growing with classic oak-type leaves, which turn coppery in the autumn.

After a relaxing lunch above the vista of Oak Creek canyon, the group went up the road to the Snow Bowl parking lot. The Quaking aspens with their white smooth bark were in full, glorious color along the way. At this high elevation of 9000+ feet, few Ponderosa pines were seen. Johnson identified the Corkbark fir, with its classic tall spire shape and blue hue of its foliage. The most distinctive trait of the Corkbark is its spongy, corky bark.

Next seen was the Limber pine, with 5 needles per bunch, and very flexible branches to withstand the heavy snow at this elevation. The Englemann spruce has sharp needles in a circular pattern around the branch, which gives it a full, bushy look. Pendant cones are found only at the top of the tree.

Lastly, Johnson identified healthy, young Bristlecone pines with their 5 needle bunches and cones with a distinctive bristle on each scale. They are considered the world’s longest living tree.

The octogenarian Johnson exemplifies the best aspect of the Sedona Westerner’s -- the incredible diversity in talent and knowledge that members share with one another. . Thank you, Fred!

"The Westerners always welcome new members! If you are interested in joining the club, log onto our website You may also join by attending the next monthly meeting which will be on Thursday, November 12, beginning at 7 p.m., at the Jewish Community of Sedona and the Verde Valley."