Curl-Leaf Mt. Mahogany

Curl-leaf Mt. Mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius)

This tall shrub or short tree is a beautiful broadleaf evergreen that is native to Colorado and much of the west up to 9000’. It’s narrow, curled leaves are an adaptation to reduce exposure to drying sun and wind; consequently it is very drought resistant, needing no irrigation after being established.The leaves are also thick, leathery, resinous and dark green above and pale below. Flowers are mostly inconspicuous and the fruit is only 1/4” long with a 2”-3” long silky tail. In dry weather these tails twist like a cork screw and with a little wind can be carried a good distance and then they will screw the seed right into the soil.

            The common name, Mountain Mahogany comes from the rich dark brown or clear red color of the hard and heavy wood. The wood is so dense that it will not float and the Indians discovered that it will take such a fine polish that when used as a spindle, not even the finest thread would snag. Although it grows slowly the first 2or 3 years, it increases more quickly after that reaching 8 feet in 6 or 8 years and growing to 15’ or sometimes 20’+. I have been growing this shrub for about 14 years and have had success in keeping it to 8’-9’ by the shearing the new growth each year by 6”-12”. This is even more important if it is not grown in full sun as it will then get quite leggy and unattractive. I have also thinned out some of the rubbing interior branches which shows off the contrast between the light gray branches and the dark green leaves. It is now one of the most admired shrubs in my xeriscape garden.   

            It has no problems with diseases or insects and has had little browsing by deer in Boulder County. Its silvery spiraling seeds are ornamental. Altogether a very beautiful, very, very tough and well-adapted tall shrub for our area. It should be much more used where a tall evergreen screen is needed or as a handsome single specimen for xeriscape conditions.

            Numerous species have at one time been identified, but most are without significant variation. One however is, in that it only grows to 5’-6’ with smaller leaves. This is Cercocarpus intricatus which will be a Plant Select shrub in 2001.