Capitol Reef Country Flora and Vegetation
PINION AND JUNIPER TREES
The smaller stunted trees you see in Capitol Reef Country below 8,000 feet are Pinion pine and juniper trees. This is called p&j habitat or pygmy forest. The Pinion pine has a short trunk with red brown bark. A compact cone provides pine nuts that are very tasty but watch the sap! The juniper tree when young has a Christmas tree shape but when older becomes very garled and twisted with bark that peels off in strips. It has a blue berry that is used to flavor gin. The dwarf forest is fast disappearing in the west, giving way to mineral/oil extraction and land clearing for grazing and development.
Big sagebrush is the dominant shrub over much of Wayne County. This aromatic shrub has a distinctive sage like aroma, especially when the leaves are crushed or when it rains. This aroma is what some call “the smell of the West.” The evergreen leaves are bluegrey and grow up to seven feet. Sagebrush is a valuable forage plant for wildlife and provides nesting habitats for birds and other animals. Sagebrush flowers in the late summer or early fall. The flowers are yellow and are carried in long slender clusters.
The tamarisk commonly known as salt cedar, was originally introduced in the west to help control stream bank erosion. Now, it is considered a noxious weed because of its proliferation and the great amounts of water the plants consume. In Utah, tamarisk uses more water than all the agriculture in the entire state. It is a major problem to water conservation throughout the southwest. Eradication efforts are underway, but it is an uphill battle because it is so widespread. The tamarisk has a feathery look to it because of the small needlelike leaves. The flowers which bloom in the spring are a light shade of purple and are quite aromatic. In the fall tamarisk turn bright orange and add nice color to the creek bottoms.
When you travel the high mountain slopes of Capitol Reef Country, the very large pine trees you come across are called ponderosa pines. These trees are commonly known as the western yellow pine. This conifer has big flakey orange or rusty colored bark and spiky red-brown cones 3” to 6” long. Ponderosas can grow 130 feet tall with a trunk that can be 14 feet around! The ponderosa pine is usually found at altitudes of 6000’ to 8500’. Take a moment to get near a Ponderosa and smell the bark. You will be surprised at its sweet vanilla aroma!