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Fri, Feb. 28

Native Plants of the Southwest (4) - Spruce Mountain, Trail 307

Mystery Plant Hint: Also called “Giant Bird’s Nest,” this plant has no chlorophyll.  It feeds off decaying plant litter, the stuff that drops from pines.  What’s its name using the stuff it feeds upon?

Mystery Plant Hint: Also called “Giant Bird’s Nest,” this plant has no chlorophyll. It feeds off decaying plant litter, the stuff that drops from pines. What’s its name using the stuff it feeds upon?

The Groom Creek Trail (307) around Spruce Mountain is a nine mile mystery: there are no spruce trees on Spruce Mountain. Since you don't exactly need a botany degree to identify a spruce, how did this place come to be called by the wrong name?

How difficult can it be to identify these trees? What's the big deal? Good questions, but we'll have to first solve the mystery of Spruce Mountain, south of Prescott, AZ. According to the Ranger in the summit lookout, there are no Spruce trees on Spruce Mountain. While animals are relatively easy to identify from a distance, such is not the case with plants. Take Poppies, for example. Lots of plants bear the name 'Poppy' but that may or may not be the case. Which of these plants actually belongs to the Poppy Family and which is a Poppy in name only? Prickle Poppy or Mexican Poppy or Arizona Poppy

Apparently, someone thought the White Fir on Spruce Mountain looked like Spruce. They never bothered to actually look closely enough to make an accurate ID. You might get away with a quick and dirty ID with some organisms (e.g. a ringtail-cat is not a cat like a bob-cat), but that is unlikely with plants, even with making the relatively easy distinction between Fir and Spruce.

True Firs have cones that stand upright on the stems. Spruce cones hang down. The branchlets of Fir are smooth in contrast to Spruce, which are bumpy because each needle of a spruce sits atop a little stalk/bump. Finally, you generally do not find Fir cones under a Fir tree because they fall apart piece by piece in the tree. Spruce cones, like pine cones, fall from the tree which bore them in their entirety. So, you can usually find plenty of Spruce cones at the base of a Spruce tree.

Therefore, slow down. Look closely. Odds are, you'll get it right, accurately identifying the plant in question. This mental discipline once learned, might even be used to help you better identify a good investment, a good friend, a good job, a good future. Sure, you'll still make mistakes, we all do. But they will be fewer and less problematic.

The Groom Creek Trailhead is 6.7 miles south of Prescott on Senator Highway. Take Highway 69 into Prescott and watch for the signs directing you to a variety of recreational destinations south of town on Senator Highway / Mt. Vernon Ave. (e.g. Goldwater Lake, Spruce Mtn., the Sky Y Camp, etc.). Turn left and follow the signs past Goldwater Lake to the trailhead on the left side of the road (Trail 307).

Hiking clockwise means a slightly steeper ascent. Views of Prescott, Granite Mountain, and points to the south are limited but worthwhile. The trail is well marked but some confusion is possible just south of the trailhead due to a variety of unofficial side trails. There is plenty of shade. The nine mile loop has taken me from four to six hours, depending on who is hiking with me. Douglas Fir, White Fir (not Blue Spruce), Ponderosa Pine, Gambel Oak, and Juniper are the most common plant species encountered. Lots of wildflowers will also be seen. It is difficult to narrow the selection to just four on our blog, but it is also good to not bite off more than you can chew. This week like last, I'll present three links to known plants and one picture of a mystery plant. Enjoy. Looking forward to hearing from you. Suggestions on trails/places to cover are also welcome. Be aware that the Town of Prescott Valley is offering a free "Fall Color Hike" on October 15th on the San Francisco Peaks, Kachina Trail. Call the Town, 928-759-3090 to find out more.

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