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Family: Rosaceae. Synonymy: None. Etymology

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Cercocarpus montanus Raf.
by Bala Chaudhary, Native Plants Class 2003

Common names: Alderleaf mountain-mahogany, deerbrowse, featherbush, hardtack, palo duro.

Family: Rosaceae.

Synonymy: None.
Etymology: The genus refers to the plant’s fruits having long feathery tails. The specific epithet means mountain dweller (3, 4). 

Growth form: Mountain mahogany is a hardwood shrub that grows anywhere from 1½ ft to 10 ft tall (2, 3).
Stem: Stems are branched and woody throughout. (3, 6)
Leaves: Leaves are grayish green, paler green beneath, toothed on the upper margins and deeply veined. Leaf dimensions are 1” long and ½” wide (2).
Inflorescence/flowers: Small petal less flowers. Green sepals form a tube with pinkish flared lobes (3).

Fruit: Seeds are ½” long and have a single long twisting feathery tail which aids in penetration into the soil (2, 3).

Similar species: Three other species of Cercocarpus occur in Arizona: C. betuloides, C. ledifolius, and C. breviflorus. C. montanus is the only deciduous shrub – the rest are evergreen species (2).



Life history: Perennial shrub
Native/introduced: Native
Photosynthetic pathway: C3 (4)
Phenology: Mountain mahogany flowers in the spring (2).

Distribution: Grows in canyons and hillsides in pinyon-juniper woodlands at elevations from 4700 to 7000 ft. Broadly distributed across Arizona in pinyon-juniper woodland, chaparral, and desert grassland. Also found in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming (2, 3).



Forage for livestock, bighorns, and deer, however, hydrocyanic acid poisoning has been reported of animals that eat the leaves (5). Navajo and Hopi Indians also use mountain mahogany to make a red dye for wool (2). The hard wood was used by Native Americans for digging sticks and tool handles (5).



  1. Charters, M.L. 2003. Sierra Madre, CA.

  2. Epple, A.O. 1995. A Field Guide to the Plants of Arizona. Guilford, CT.

  3. Fagan, D. 1998. Canyon Country Wildflowers. Falcon Publishing. Billings, MT.

  4. Gledhill, D. 1989. The Names of Plants. Cambridge University Press. New York, NY.

  5. Kearney T.H. and Peebles R.H. 1960. Arizona Flora. University of California Press. Berkeley, CA.

  6. USDA, NRCS. 2002. The PLANTS Database, Version 3.5 ( National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.

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