Cercocarpus ledifolius

Curl-leaf mountain mahogany


The Basics

Taxonomy: Kingdom - Plantae (plants). Subkingdom - Tracheobionta (vascular plants). Superdivision - Spermatophyta (seed plants). Division - Magnoliophyta (flowering plants). Class - Magnoliopsida. Subclass - Rosidae. Order - Rosales. Family - Rosaceae (rose). Genus - Cercocarpus Kunth. Species - Cercocarpus ledifolius Nutt.

Ecology: Curlleaf mountain-mahogany is widespread in mountainous regious across western North America, and is found at elevations ranging from 600 to 3,000 m. Curlleaf mountain-mahogany functions as a late-seral or a mid-seral species in most communities. Site conditions likely dictate curlleaf mountain-mahogany's place in succession. Curlleaf mountain-mahogany's shade tolerance is low, so if sites can support coniferous species, curlleaf mountain-mahogany may be replaced as conifers dominate the canopy. However, succession proceeds at an "extremely slow" rate in many curlleaf mountain-mahogany communities, and long-term studies of successional change in curlleaf mountain-mahogany communities are lacking. This species can grow very old; one individual was found to be an estimated 1,350 years old (Schultz and Tueller 1990), making it one of the longest living angiosperm species. Curlleaf mountain-mahogany occupies habitats with low precipitation and extreme temperature ranges. Curlleaf mountain-mahogany is found on open slopes in the Utah Forest Dynamics Plot, near the upper end of its reported elevation range.


Shrubs or trees, (5)1085 dm, moderately to strongly branched distally. Stems: long-shoot internodes 422 mm, sericeous-villous to hirsute-pilose, rarely glabrous, glabrescent; short shoots (1)255 13.4 mm. Leaves persistent or drought-deciduous; stipules 13.8 mm; petiole 0.46 mm; blade linear, linear-lanceolate, lanceolate, lance-elliptic, or elliptic-ovate, (3)548 111 mm, stiffly coriaceous, base cuneate, margins weakly to strongly revolute, entire, thickened, apex acute, apiculate-mucronate to obtuse-rounded, abaxial surface initially sericeous or villous (sometimes strongly so), sometimes glabrescent, areoles closely canescent, adaxial sericeous, hirsute, or villous, glabrescent. Flowers 110 per short shoot; hypanthial tubes densely to loosely sericeous, villous, or with indument of coiled ascending hairs; hypanthial cups 1.53 1.83.5 mm; sepals (3)5, broadly deltate, 12.5 mm, acute-obtuse; stamens 1025, anthers 0.71.2 mm, glabrous. Achenes 610.5 0.81.5 mm; fruiting pedicels 0.31.5(2) mm; hypanthial tubes (2.6)311 mm; pedicel/tube ratio (5)818(28)%; fruit awns 38.5 cm, proximal setae 1.63.5 mm.


Fire effects: Curlleaf mountain-mahogany has thick bark and may survive "light" fires. Sprouts following fire are rare and short lived. Most often curlleaf mountain-mahogany is killed by fire, and regeneration is by seedling establishment. Curlleaf mountain-mahogany recolonizes burned sites predominantly through seedling establishment. Seeds in the soil may survive low- or moderate-severity fires. If the curlleaf mountain-mahogany seed bank and all nearby mature trees are consumed in the fire, curlleaf mountain-mahogany recolonization will depend on an off-site seed source and will be slow.


Flowering and fruiting - Curlleaf mountain-mahogany flowers are perfect and apetalous. Calyx tubes from 3-10 mm long are produced at the leaf axils of stem tips on 2nd-year wood. Flowers occur singly or in clusters of up to 5, although clusters of 2 or 3 are most common. Curlleaf mountain-mahogany produces achenes with a long, persistent, plumose style or tail. They are hard and narrow, with sharp tips. Seeds measure 4-10 mm long, and tails are often 2.5-8 cm long. Flowers are chiefly wind pollinated, although some pollination by insects may occur. Curlleaf mountain-mahogany seed is moderately heavy and predominantly wind dispersed. The feathery seed tail aids in wind dispersal. Small mammals feed on the seeds and may serve as dispersal agents as well.

Vegetative regeneration - Curlleaf mountain-mahogany asexual regeneration is limited. Sprouting may occur after "light" fires, but typically sprouts do not live beyond the 2nd or 3rd postfire year.

Species Distribution


USDA Plants Database
USDA, NRCS. 2016. The PLANTS Database. National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.

USFS Plant Database
Habeck, R. J. 1992. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory.

Flora of North America
Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 19+ vols. New York and Oxford.

The Jepson Herbarium
The Jepson Manual: Vascular Plants of California. B.G. Baldwin, D.H. Goldman, D.J. Keil, R. Patterson, T.J. Rosatti, and D.H. Wilken [editors]. 2012. 2nd edition, thoroughly revised and expanded. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

USGS Plant Species Range Maps
Critchfield, W.B., and Little, E.L., Jr., 1966, Geographic distribution of the pines of the world: U.S. Department of Agriculture Miscellaneous Publication 991, p. 1-97. Little, E.L., Jr., 1971-1978, Atlas of United States trees, volume 1,3,13,17, conifers and important hardwoods: U.S. Department of Agriculture Miscellaneous Publications.