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Coleogyne ramosissima
Coleogyne ramosissima (Blackbrush)

Cercocarpus intricatus
Cercocarpus intricatus (Narrow-leaf Mountain Mahogany)

Coleogyne ramosissima  Cercocarpus intricatus
                Coleogyne ramosissima                                      Cercocarpus intricatus

Coleogyne ramosissima
Coleogyne ramosissima (Blackbrush)

Cercocarpus intricatus
Cercocarpus intricatus (Narrow-leaf Mountain Mahogany)

 
Coleogyne ramosissima (Blackbrush) and Cercocarpus intricatus (Narrow-leaf Mountain Mahogany)
Rosaceae (Rose Family)

Semi-desert. Shrublands. Spring.
Above and left: Comb Ridge, October 19, 2016.

When Betty and I walked the wide open spaces of Comb Ridge on a warm October day (click to see), we realized again how difficult it can be to distinguish between Coleogyne ramosissima and Cercocarpus intricatus, even if you get to within 7 feet of the plants  --  as shown in the top two photographs. But when we got closer and made more careful observations (as shown immediately above and at left), we were soon able to distinguish between the two species, even from 20 or 30 feet away. One of the tricks in the late months of the year is to note the presence of orange to red leaves in Cercocarpus intricatus. As explained below, earlier in the year other characteristics can help distinguish between the two species.

Coleogyne ramosissima and Cercocarpus intricatus have quite different flowers and fruits so when these are present the two species are quite distinct from each other. Also, looking out across wide shrublands (as in the first and second photograph below taken at Island in the Sky and Gateway), one can tell that the shrub is Coleogyne ramosissima, not Cercocarpus intricatus, for the latter never grows in such massive numbers. But when the three conditions of flower, fruit, and massive numbers don't exist, as in the photographs above and to the left, the two species are difficult to tell apart.

At first, both shrubs seem to have nearly identical leaves. Their leaves are short (5-15 mm long) and narrow (.5-1.6 mm wide). Coleogyne ramosissima leaves are, however, most commonly narrowly oblanceolate, i.e., they gradually widen from the bottom to the tip. Cercocarpus intricatus leaves are almost linear, i.e., the sides are almost parallel (but they are generally a bit more narrow at the bottom than at the tip).

Another distinguishing characteristic is the very tip of each leaf, which, in the case of C. ramosissima is usually blunt, but may be finely drawn out almost to a sharpened point, i.e., the leaf may be "mucronate". C. intricatus leaves are almost always mucronate when fresh but as the close-up photograph above shows, the mucronate tip may not be present after leaves age.

Three other aspects of the leaves are much more definitive in separating the two species. The most easily observed of these three is the gray-green color of the leaves of C. ramosissima versus the bright green of C. intricatus. Coleogyne ramosissima leaves are covered with hairs; Cercocarpus intricatus leaves may be hairy on the bottom side, but they are commonly glabrous on top and dotted with small glands. (Smell the leaf for the odor of the gland secretions.) Even looking at the leaves without a hand lens will show you these differences. Once you have trained your brain to make this observation, you will find that you are often able to tell which species you are looking at, even from many feet away.

The second distinguishing leaf characteristic easily observed with the naked eye requires a close-up look at the leaf: the edges of the leaves of C. ramosissima are not rolled under. The edges of the leaves of C. intricatus are very tightly rolled under and cover most of the underside of the leaf. (Click to see.)

For the final characteristic you need a hand lens and a steady hand: the numerous hairs covering both sides of the leaf of C. ramosissima are malpighian, i.e., they are attached, pick-head like, in their center to the leaf surface. The hairs of C. intricatus are basifixed, i.e., they are attached to the leaf surface at their bottom, just as our hairs are attached to our skin.

Coleogyne ramosissima

Coleogyne ramosissima

 
Coleogyne ramosissima (Blackbrush)
Rosaceae (Rose Family)

Semi-desert. Shrublands. Spring.
Island in the Sky, Canyonlands National Park, Utah, March 23, 2001 and Gateway, Colorado, area, May 12, 2012.

The gray-green appearance, low growth form, spiny branches, and tendency to dominate large tracts of the canyon country of Southeast Utah often make Blackbrush pretty easy to identify.  Its masses of yellow flowers (shown below) are attractive, but even though this plant is accustomed to drought, it is affected by prolonged drought years such as those of 1999-2004 in which it produced few flowers.  In 2005, though, the story was different: continuous winter and spring moisture produced masses of flowers on Coleogyne ramosissima and made Canyon Country golden.

"Coleogyne" is Greek for "sheathed fruit", and "ramosissima" is Latin for "many branched".  John Torrey named this genus and species in 1853 from a specimen collected by John Fremont in 1844.

Coleogyne ramosissima
Coleogyne ramosissima (Blackbrush)
Rosaceae (Rose Family)

Semi-desert. Shrublands. Spring.
Hunter Canyon, Utah, May 3, 2005.

Coleogyne ramosissima
Coleogyne ramosissima (Blackbrush)
Rosaceae (Rose Family)

Semi-desert. Shrublands. Spring.
Hidden Valley Trail, Utah, May 10, 2007.

Coleogyne ramosissima has dense, intricately branching, sharp branches and is really more gray than black, yet the plant does appear dark because it contrasts with the light-colored sands it grows in.

Coleogyne ramosissima

Coleogyne ramosissima

Coleogyne ramosissima (Blackbrush)
Rosaceae (Rose Family)

Semi-desert. Shrublands. Spring.
Confluence Trail, The Needles, Canyonlands National Park, Utah, May 20, 2004.

Coleogyne ramosissima
Coleogyne ramosissima (Blackbrush)
Rosaceae (Rose Family)

Semi-desert. Shrublands. Spring.
Hunter Canyon, Utah, May 3, 2005.

Coleogyne ramosissima
Coleogyne ramosissima (Blackbrush)
Rosaceae (Rose Family)

Semi-desert. Shrublands. Spring.
Mesa Arch Trail, Island in the Sky, Canyonlands National Park, Utah, September 27, 2005.

Mature seed pods and the pear-shaped seeds are tan to rich brown and remain on the shrub into the next season, making identification easier.  Notice also the sharp points of dead branches.

Range map © John Kartesz,
Floristic Synthesis of North America

State Color Key

Species present in state and native
Species present in state and exotic
Species not present in state

County Color Key

Species present and not rare
Species present and rare
Species extirpated (historic)
Species extinct
Species noxious
Species exotic and present
Native species, but adventive in state
Eradicated
Questionable presence

Range map for Coleogyne ramosissima