The Native Trees of Colorado,
by Stuart Wier
This web site for anyone who is interested in the trees of Colorado. My goal is to offer a guide to identification of Colorado native trees which is easy to use. There is considerably more detailed and particular help here for identifying Colorado trees than you will find in the national tree guides; in fact many of those books omit some native trees of Colorado. I also describe something about the trees' habits and the role of the trees in the forests of Colorado. This guide describes every native tree of Colorado.
It is easy to learn to recognize the trees you will see. In one forest location in Colorado you will generally find only five or ten types of trees. There are only some fifty kinds of trees native to all of Colorado, or even less if you do not count those which often grow as large shrubs - low diversity for such a large forested region, some 25,000 square miles, with many habitats.
The easiest features to uniquely identify each tree are explained in detail here, with possible variations. Only the key features used to identify a tree are described. There is little botanical terminology to confuse the non-expert. The descriptions are for trees as they grow in Colorado, rather than for the same trees from other regions with different sizes and appearance. Also check my one-page "Instant Tree Finder," a one-page guide to the conifers.
Trees are by far the largest and most numerous large living organisms in North America. Trees are key species in the enviroment in mountain forests and in the surrounding foothills, shrublands, plains, and deserts. They have an important influence on the ecosystems in which they live, and so help determine what other plants and animals can live there. Trees were essential in the early exploration and settlement of America by the native Indians and Europeans.
This guide will also serve for most of the trees of northern New Mexico, eastern Utah, the Black Hills, and much of Wyoming including Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. The forest populations in those regions differ some from Colorado of course, but there is much in common. Those regions have a few kinds of trees not native to Colorado, such as the Whitebark pine and Black cottonwood in Yellowstone National Park, the White spruce and the Burr oak in the Black Hills, and in New Mexico the Gray oak, the Alligator juniper, and the Arizona alder.
This guide was started to meet a need I saw for a detailed description of all of the Colorado native trees. When I first worked on this, over 25 years ago, there were many fewer detailed guides for trees. Most of what was commonly available then was too simple (popular tree guide books), or too detailed (all the flora of Colorado in one or two volumes, for professional botanists). Just finding a list of all the native trees of Colorado was difficult. Now there are a large number of fine books on regional natural history (see my list of books), For Colorado trees, I think the material presented here is still quite useful.
Table of Contents
Southwestern White Pine
Distinguishing the Pines
Distinguishing the Spruces
The Broadleaf Trees
Peachleaf Willow and Pacific Willow
Canyon or Bigtooth Maple
The Small Broadleaf Trees and some large Woody Shrubs
New Mexico Locust
Single Leaf Ash
Willows: Narrowleaf, Scouler's, Bebb and others
Uncommon Colorado natives coming from adjacent states
Invasive non-native trees: Tamarisk and Russian Olive
Map of Colorado Forests (Colorado State Forest Service). Click for full size.
Instant Tree Finder Chart (conifers)
Books describing native trees of Colorado
The Mountain Pine Beetle and the recent pine beetle epidemic: a compilation of summaries and extracts from reports, studies, and interviews.
Life Zones and Habitats of Colorado by Colorado Native Plant Society. For Life Zones and Habitats, scroll down to bottom of page.
Scientifc names are from the Catalog of the Colorado Flora: A Biodiversity Baseline, William A. Weber and Ronald C. Wittmann. University Press of Colorado, 1992. revised March 11, 2000. (online http://cumuseum.colorado.edu/Research/Botany/Databases/catalog.html) Accessed September 16, 2011. Botanical names are frequently revised and no attempt has been to to follow changes; the genus and species names are only rarely changedi however. "Common" names change less frequently than the Latin names.
Latest update of this page: June 8, 2019. The Native Trees of Colorado: Text Copyright © 1998 - 2015 Stuart K. Wier Reproduction, reuse, retransmission, or redistribution prohibited without prior written consent of the author. Individuals are welcome to print one copy for their own personal use.