Trees

The trees of Capitol Reef National Park can be divided into two categories: deciduous and coniferous. Deciduous trees produce fruit, lose their leaves in the fall, and are bare over the winter. Conifers, or evergreen trees, usually have needles and reproduce through cones. There are 16 tree species found in the park. Learn about some of them on this page.

 

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Coniferous Trees

 

Utah Juniper

Scientific Name: Juniperus osteosperma
Size (height & diameter): 10-20 ft tall (3-6 m), 1 ft (0.3 m) in diameter
Habitat: Lowland riparian, mixed desert shrub, pinyon-juniper
Range: Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and California
Description: Utah juniper is one of two defining members of the pinyon-juniper community which occurs at low to mid elevations in the park. It has fibrous bark that becomes shredded with age, and bluish, waxy-coated seeds that help the tree conserve moisture. Juniper trees can survive with only a few inches of precipitation each year. When faced with drought, they can stop the flow of water to a branch, allowing the limb to die while the rest of the tree remains green and growing. Utah juniper has been an important resource for humans for centuries being used for firewood, fence posts, food, beads, mats, and ropes.

 
Two photos: 1: Wide-trunked tree with dark green foliage, growing out of rocks. 2: closeup of small light blue berries beside scale leaves.
Left: Mature juniper tree. Right: Juniper "berries," which are actually modified cones.

NPS

 

Two-Needle Pinyon Pine

Scientific Name: Pinus edulis
Size (height & diameter): 15-45 ft (4.6-13.7 m) tall, 2.5 ft (0.7 m) in diameter
Habitat: Mixed desert shrub, pinyon-juniper, lowland riparian
Range: Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas
Description: Pinyon (Piñon) pine is one of two defining members of the pinyon-juniper community, which occurs at low to mid elevations in the park. The Latin name translates to "edible pine," referring to its nutritious seeds which are sought after by humans and wildlife. The seeds are the primary food of the pinyon jay. The Pinyon pine has thin, yellowish-brown bark that becomes furrowed and brown with age. Needles occur in bundles of two. The tree produces resin which has been used by native people as an adhesive and sealant to glue feathers and to waterproof baskets, and for a variety of medicinal purposes.

 
Two photos: gnarly, windblown tree with exposed roots and green needles on branches. 2: close up of green needles, two per cluster, and immature cones.
Pinyon pine have been used by humans for thousands of years, for food and shelter.

Photo 1: NPS Photo 2: NPS/Emily Van Ness

 

Ponderosa Pine

Scientific Name: Pinus ponderosa
Size (height & diameter): Up to 130 ft (39 m) tall, and 30-60 in (0.9-1.7 m) in diameter
Habitat: Mountainous areas with moderate rainfall and full sun
Flowering Season: N/A
Range: Utah, and throughout the West
Description: Ponderosa pines are tall, straight trees with needles between 3 and 10 inches (7-25 cm) long, usually grouped in clusters of three. Cones are brown, and between 3 and 6 inches tall (7-15 cm). They are drought tolerant and fire resistant due to thick bark, which gives off a sweet smell of vanilla or butterscotch. Ponderosas are long-lived (500 or more years) and their seeds are an important food source for birds and rodents.

 
On left, a tall, straight tree with green pine needles. On right, a cluster of hundreds of green pine needles and several brown pine cones.
Ponderosa pines grow throughout the West, and are one of the most widespread pines in the United States.

NPS

 

Western Bristlecone Pine

Scientific Name: Pinus longaeva
Size (height & diameter): 40-66 ft (12-20 m) tall, 12-30 in (0.3-0.8 m) in diameter
Habitat: Mixed-conifer forests usually occurring in isolated stands in harsh, high elevation environments. Scattered stands occur in the northern part of the park.
Range: Utah, Nevada, and California
Description: The Western bristlecone pine is the longest-lived tree known with some reaching nearly 5,000 years old. It has a gnarled, stunted appearance with older trees often being twisted and contorted. The bark is reddish-brown with deep fissures. The needles occur in bundles of 5.

 
On left, a cone-shaped green tree with needles. On right, a close-up of green needles and brown pine cones on branches.
Western bristlecone pines are uncommon in the park, growing only at higher elevations.

NPS

 

Deciduous Trees

 

Fremont Cottonwood

Scientific Name: Populus fremontii
Size (height & diameter): Up to 75 ft (22.9 m) tall, and 5 ft (1.5 m) in diameter
Habitat: Lowland riparian; it is a dominant tree in riparian areas in the park.
Flowering Season: Mid-spring to early summer
Range: Utah, Nevada, California, Arizona, and New Mexico
Description: Young Fremont cottonwoods have smooth, white bark, while the bark of older trees is furrowed and brown. The leaves are triangular with long, flat petioles (leaf stalks). Cottonwoods provide important habitat for wildlife, including foraging and nesting habitat for songbirds, and perching sites for raptors. Cottonwoods in the park are host to tent caterpillars which often defoliate the trees in the spring. However, most trees will grow a new set of leaves by summer. This tree’s scientific name honors the explorer, John C. Fremont. Cottonwoods have lightweight, soft wood, and produce “cotton fluff,” for seed dispersal.

 
Two photos: Large, gnarly tree covered in green leaves. 2: Close up of large cluster of reddish brown round clumps hanging from branch, with green leaves in background.
The most famous Fremont cottonwood tree in Capitol Reef is the "Mail Tree," in the picnic area along the Scenic Drive. Cottonwood flowers form in drooping clusters called catkins.

NPS

 

Singleleaf Ash

Scientific Name: Fraxinus anomala
Size (height & diameter): Up to 20 ft (6 m) tall, but usually much shorter
Habitat: Canyons and riparian areas; shade intolerant
Flowering Season: Mid-spring – early summer
Range: Utah, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, and other Rocky Mountain states
Description: Singleleaf ash, unlike other ash trees, have simple leaves, instead of compound leaves; the scientific name “anomala” indicates anomaly, or that difference in leaf shape. These small trees (almost like large shrubs) are tolerant of poor soil, drought, and heat, and can be found in areas with very little water. Seeds are dispersed by the wind, and have a winged appearance.

 
Three photos: skinny tree with green leaves growing out of gray slickrock; close up of green leaves and pale green flowers; close up of green leaves and tan seeds.
Left: Mature singleleaf ash tree. Top right: Singleleaf ash flowers and leaves. Bottom right: Closeup of singleleaf ash seeds, with wings for seed dispersal.

NPS/ Ann Huston

 

Boxelder

Scientific Name: Acer negundo
Size (height & diameter): Up to 45 ft (14 m) tall, and 2 ft (0.6 m) in diameter
Habitat: Canyons and riparian areas in Utah
Flowering Season: March—April
Range: Throughout much of United States
Description: The boxelder is in the maple family, but sometimes people mistake its leaves for poison ivy. It is the only maple that has divided leaves and separate male and female trees. Boxelders prefer deep, moist soils, but can grow in poor soils also. In canyon environments, the boxelder may grow into strange shapes, seeking sunlight.

 
Three photos: large, leafy green tree in a canyon; close up of pink stringy lines coming from cluster, with small dark ends; and close up of bright green leaves with green, winged seeds.
Left: Mature boxelder tree. Top right: Male flowering twig (female looks similar, but shorter). Bottom right: Immature fruit with one or two wings attached, called samaras.

Left: NPS/Shauna Cotrell; Right: NPS/Ann Huston

 

Gambel Oak

Scientific Name: Quercus gambelii
Size (height & diameter): 6-30 feet (1.8-9 m) tall, with wide-spreading branches
Habitat: Dry slopes and full sun
Flowering Season: Spring
Range: Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Texas
Description: A small, shrub-like tree, the
Gambel Oak is the most common oak found in Capitol Reef. It usually grows in clumps, has wide, rounded, lobed leaves, and produces acorns in the fall. The tree provides important habitat and forage for many wild species, from birds to deer. The Gambel Oak is very drought-tolerant and can grow on poor soils. Native Americans ate and cooked with the acorn.

 
Two photos: large, spreading tree with green leaves in a canyon; close up of green leaves backlit by the sun.
Gambel oaks are small trees, sometimes called "scrub oak."

NPS

 

Orchard Trees

Learn about the fruit trees grown in the historic Fruita Orchards.

Last updated: February 2, 2021

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Torrey, UT 84775

Phone:

435-425-3791
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