Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A Different Kind of Mahogany

Not the well known furniture wood from the tropics, our mountain mahogany is a sprawling shrub that's a member of the rose clan. The plant above is one of many in the thicket on my hillside.

Researching the subject with The Google was less than very productive, unfortunately. Why the name, for example? I caught one brief sentence indicating that at least one species has red, mahogany-colored trunks. Not here in Arizona, as you can see above. Another article talked about the dense wood as being mahogany-colored. Afternote: I finally got into the brief Britannica article on MM, which noted that it is said that the common name was given to species of these plants by the Mormons, who used the wood to build the Tabernacle Organ at Salt Lake City, Utah.

The local MM grows many canes, often as tall as 15 feet. Most are unbranched, and seldom as much as 2-3 inches in diameter at the base. On the other hand, other varieties of MM do form small trees, especially at higher elevations and to the north of Arizona, which explains those organ pipes above. The plants all tend to be evergreen, with small leathery, gray-green leaves.

I found the canes useful for making this morning glory trellis. And I would bet on them for fishing poles, as well. Native Americans used the wood to make spindles for starting fires, for bows and arrows, prayer sticks and weaving implements. The roots provided a red dye for buckskin and wool. The plants also provide a good browse for deer and other animals.

Mountain mahogany flowers are small, shy and retiring...

...but the seeds are spectacular, especially when backlit. They are designed to fly on the winds, catch in animal fur and to corkscrew into the ground to get established. One reference cited the "difficulty" of sprouting the seeds; my experience is quite the opposite -- if I didn't pull the seedlings up promptly, mountain mahogany would take over! I like the plant, but not that much.

8 comments:

sheoflittlebrain said...

I've always wondered at the name Mountain Mahogany too. Love the pix of the furry seeds.

Granny J said...

The local flock of house finches have been out, eating the MM seeds -- they carefully throw away the beautiful furry tail of each seed. And they are equally careful to put a twig or branch in between us when I try to phograph the action.

smilnsigh said...

I'll have to ask my woodworker husband if he's familiar with this wood.

Mari-Nanci

Granny J said...

I'd be curious as to his answer. As best as I can tell, the serious mountain mahogany wood is from the tree-form, rather than my many scrubby shrubs.

k said...

Those seeds are amazing!

Granny J said...

k -- the plants are just beautiful in the fall covered with those glowing seeds.

Olivia Kroth said...

Your morning glory trellis made from mountain mahogany looks nice, Julie.

Granny J said...

Olivia -- it's crude, but I like it.

 
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