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Mountain mahogany

A mountain mahogany tree covered in feathery seeds

The Range Two fire burned many mountain mahogany trees in lower Lamoille Canyon. While much of the fire in the canyon burned at a low intensity, the slopes carrying mahogany trees burned hot. This will not be a surprise to anyone lucky enough to use mountain mahogany wood in a wood stove. This dense wood burns hot and can keep a fire going all night. the negative side is cutting it quickly dulls chainsaw chains.

Mahogany trees grow slowly and recovery of these trees will take decades. Volunteers are working today in Lamoille Canyon to gather and spread mahogany seeds to help jump start their recovery.

This time of year, mountain mahogany trees look fuzzy because of the large, feathery seeds still clinging to the branches. With the morning sun behind them, the trees seem to glow.

The volunteers will be able to collect handfuls of the seeds from the ground, where they often collect in wind-driven piles. The actual seed is tiny and football-shaped, with long, magnificent plumes attached to each seed. The plumes look like downy feathers with shafts two to three inches long. These shafts are usually coiled around themselves two or three times.

These beautiful seed shapes have two specific purposes. The feathery look helps disperse the seeds away from the mother tree. They create wind resistance, and during afternoon breezes, they break free and float away on the breeze. Seeds hopefully land in a spot conducive for germination.

The vast majority of these wind-dispersed mahogany seeds will not germinate. These seeds need to end up buried in mineral soil or at least in contact with soil, so they can make use of the soil’s nutrients during their initial growth. Spreading these seeds on burned ground should help them germinate. Mahogany seedlings often begin growth along old roads, because the seeds found bare soil in the ruts.

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The coiled seed shafts help seeds come in contact with bare soil since they react to changes in air humidity. As humidity builds, usually at night, the shafts straighten slightly. With lower humidity, usually during the afternoon, the shafts curl more. Over the course of weeks, such slow movement may push the seeds down through ground litter. Some research has shown these seeds can bury themselves in the soil. However, merely piercing the litter and touching the soil may be help enough.

The next volunteer opportunity will be on December 1, when the Nevada Department of Wildlife will gather sagebrush seed from the Spring Creek Association campground area. This seed will be cleaned and used in burned areas of the Ruby Mountains. More information on this volunteer opportunity can be found on Facebook at “Friends of the Ruby Mountains.”

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