Notes on the Trees and Flora of the Chiricahua Mountains
by J. W. Toumey
Garden and Forest magazine, January 9, 1895, Vol. 8, Issue 359
(slightly abridged)

By most people Arizona is thought of as the Sahara of the New World--a land of broad mesas and rugged mountains, where strange Cacti, tall Agaves, and wide-spreading yuccas flourish, while trees and shrubs with broad green leaves and shady foliage are unknown.

It is true that Arizona has unnumbered miles of broad mesas and sand-blown plains, but even here many species of shrubs, besides perennial and annual herbs, find a congenial home. Growing, as they do, where the rainfall is light, where there is little dew or other moisture, where the days are successions of bright sunshine, all the plants of the plains have small leaves, or, frequently, none, a dense pubescence, or thick epidermis. Nature, by lessening, or protecting the evaporating surface, enables plants inhabiting these regions to withstand prolonged drought and the scorching heat of an almost tropical sun. The deep green of other regions here gives way to "Arizona green," a color hard to describe--a somber gray which harmonizes well with the stretches of sand and rock-strewn hills.

Much has been said in regard to the gray vegetation of the Arizona plains. Little has been said, however, about our mountains and broad table-lands, which bear another flora, with leaves as green, flowers as bright, and shade as deep as we find in any other portion of the country.

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During July I was one of a party who made a trip by wagon over a considerable portion of southeastern Arizona. We rode about four hundred miles and visited the Santa Rita, Huachuca, Mule, Swisshelm, Chiricahua, Gailuro, and Rincon mountain ranges. Of all these ranges, the Chiricahuas are the least known, botanically. They have an interesting and diverse vegetation, and especially is this true in regard of the forest flora, since seventy percent of all the trees in the state are growing on these mountains.

The Chiricahua mountains may be termed the northern prolongation of the Sierra Madre range of Sonora and Chihuahua. They occupy a large area in Cochise County, and, like the other ranges of southeastern Arizona, extend approximately north and south. All these ranges differ considerably from each other as regards their geological formation. Owing to this, and to the fact that they are separated from each other by more or less broad strips of mesa, each is quite different from its neighboring ranges in the prominent features of its flora. A marked distinction is also noticeable in the vegetation of the mesas, when separated by mountains of considerable elevation.

Approaching the Chiricahua mountains from the west, at the north of the Swisshelm range, we entered White River canyon, ascended this canyon to old Camp Rucker, thence over the divide to the San Simon valley, skirted the eastern border of the mountains to Fort Bowie, and ascended all the important canyons on the east side. These canyons are all thickly wooded. In many places the trees and underbrush are so dense that one can only get through after much effort. The most abundant trees are oaks, pines, and junipers. In the lower canyons are cottonwood, mesquit, desert willow, black willow, silky willow, Mexican elder, soapberry, mulberry, Mexican buckthorn, ash box-elder, junco, broad-leaved yucca, oaks, and acacias. Farther up we find walnut, alder, sycamore, maple, locust, cherry, bearberry, hackberry, oaks, pines, and other conifers. In the foothills and lower mountains are two species of palo verde, the narrow-leaved yucca, two tree-opuntias, and two acacias. On the mountain sides, at a greater elevation, we find juniper, cedar, mountain mahogany, arbutus, aspen, and several oaks and pines.

On a limestone cliff at the right, a few miles before entering White River canyon, are growing a number of specimens of Bumelia spinosa, one of which measured thirty feet high and eleven inches in diameter. Here were also fine specimens of Morus celtidifolia and Quercus grisea. A trunk of the latter species measured twelve feet four inches in circumference. An interesting form of Q. undulata, with very undulate leaves, was found growing on these rocks. This is the only form of this very variable species, so far as I have observed, that approaches a tree in size. Specimens were measured that were from twenty-five to thirty feet high and eight inches in diameter, and with a good clean trunk.

Fraxinus velutina, Chiricahua mountains

Fraxinus velutina trees in the Chiricahua mountains

By the side of this cliff, along the wash from the White River canyon, were abundant specimens of Chilopsis saligna, Salix nigra venulosa, and S. longifolia, var. The latter is a beautiful tree with rather long drooping branches and small silky leaves. A few specimens measured eighteen inches in diameter; most usually, however, this tree is much smaller. Platanus Wrightii, Fraxinus velutina (see photo) and Juglans rupestris were occasionally seen, but were not so abundant as they were later. Juglans rupestris is more or less abundant in all the mountain ranges of southeastern Arizona. It is most usually a small tree with white stiff branches; sometimes, however, it grows to a considerable size. Specimens were measured in the Galiuro mountains with trunks twelve feet eight inches in circumference, and long, wide-spreading branches. There is a great variation in the size of the nuts of this species; sometimes they are fully an inch and a quarter in diameter, and sometimes they are not one-quarter of that size.

At the entrance of the canyon were a number of large specimens of Juniperus pachyphloea, the most beautiful and symmetrical of all our junipers. One trunk measured over thirteen feet in circumference. Growing with this juniper were J. occidentalis monosperma, Quercus Emoryi and Alnus oblongifolia. Among ranchmen Juniperus pachyphloea is known as juniper, while all the shreddy-barked species are called cedar. The cedar is a much more durable timber, and is used extensively throughout the region in building fences and corrals.

Quercus Emoryi is the most abundant and widespread of all the oaks of Arizona. From a mere shrub on the mountain-side, it grows to great size in more favorable localities. One of these oaks at Rosemont, on the Santa Rita mountains, has a trunk fourteen feet nine inches in circumference, and the magnificent spread of ninety-six feet. The acorns of this species ripen as early as June, and under the name "biotes" are used for food by Mexicans and Indians. This, together with the small bunch of pubescence at the untion of the leaf-blade to the petiole, are important characteristics in the identification of this species. Another black oak, somewhat similar, but probably a new species was found on the mountains above Bisbee.

Tucson, Arizona\ J.W. Toumey

Ed. note: Quercus Emoryi, Emory oak, is named after William H. Emory.