Skip to main content
Reservations recommended. Reserve tickets here.
Skip to main content

Curl-Leaf Mountain Mahogany

Scientific Name:
Cercocarpus ledifolius
Family:
Native Name(s):
  1. Northern Paiute: tu˙pi (Kelly 1932); tuupi (Couture et al. 1986); tubi (Fowler 1989); toobe (Train et al. 1957:35-36); toobe-buh-ah (Train et al. 1957:35-36); too-pee (Train et al. 1957:35-36)
  2. Pit River: BayiBup (Garth 1953)
  3. Klamath: Yök'-mä-läm (Coville 1897)
Description:

Plant

Cercocarpus ledifolius is a shrub or small tree that grows between 2 to 7 m in height. It has narrow-lanceolate, leathery, and abaxially positioned, white-woolly leaves. Its inflorescences are clusters of 1 to 10 whitish-yellow flowers that each have between 10 to 25 stamens. The fruits are hairy achenes 6 to 11 mm long that have a curled style attached to one end that is 3 to 7 cm in length. The species blooms from April to May.

Identification Tips

This species has distinct narrow-lanceolate, hairy leaves. C. betuloides and C. minutiflorus leaves are elliptic to obovate with serrated edges and sparsely hairy.

Starch Granules

This species is starch deficient. No starch granules were observed from seeds.

Habitat:

Cercocarpus ledifolius grows at 1200 to 3000 m in elevation on steep slopes, in montane shrublands and open pine forests.

Distribution:

This species grows throughout the western United States.

Ethnography:

Cercocarpus ledifolius is a hard wood that was mainly used to make digging sticks and other tools. Cercocarpus ledifolius also was used medicinally by steeping the bark for tea, which was an important remedy for pulmonary disorders including tuberculosis.

As medicine

Northern Paiute: "[In regards to tubi (mountain mahogany, Cercocarpus ledifolius) as it was used for medicine] A small bushy tree (tubi) grows in the mountains.  Take the bark and dry it.  The bark is good for tuberculosis or anyone who spits blood.  The dried bark was boiled in water.  Any amount was made and stored in water jugs.  The red tea made from this was drunk." (Fowler 1989:129)

Northern Paiute: "Judging from a number of reports this plant would appear to be one of the more important sources of medicinal remedies for the Indians.  Its main use seems to be for pulmonary disorders, especially in the treatment of tuberculosis.  Practically all of the informants specified that the bark must be dried, sometimes for as long as two years, before use.  After drying, the bark strips are boiled to make the decoction and usually it seems essential that the tea drinking must continue for a long time to aid the condition...One Indian recommended that the bark be mixed with young twigs and leaves of Purshia tridentata and boiled, the cool decoction then being taken frequently for pains in the lungs due to tuberculosis...A decoction of the dried root was used for the medicine at one place...For coughs and cold the dried bark decoction is taken, but in one locality a cold water infusion was preferred...Again the medicine is prepared from an infusion of the inner park...or from the steeped leaves...The second of the important uses for the dried bark is in the treatment of sores, cuts, burns, and wounds.  It is applied mostly as a powder but sometimes as a paste.  Usually it is the dry bark which is ground to a powder for this purpose...or sometimes the soft inner bark...likewise the same substance [pulverized wood] was a specific to dry up syphilitic sores...for heart disorders a tea decoction was prepared from the leaves or from the bark...A decoction of the dried bark, or sometimes of the inner bark only, served as a cold drink to be taken for several days in doses of one-half to a full cup daily, had general favor as a blood tonic...The bark decoction was said to be good for a number of other troubles, such as stomach-ache, venereal diseases...diarrhea, stomach ulcers, and pneumonia." (Train et al. 1957:35-36)

Northern Paiute: "For childrens' diarrhea a warm tea is prepared by combining this plant [Ephedra veris] with the scraped bark of Cercocarpus ledifolius." (Train et al. 1957:45-46)

Other

Northern Paiute: "The digging stick in use today is a straight iron bar about three feet in length, pointed at one end, the other end turned in a loop or else provided with a wooden cross-piece as a handle.  The old digging stick (bodo') was a straight piece of mountain mahogany (tu˙pi) sharpened to a point with a stone knife or by being rubbed on a stone and hardened in the fire." (Kelly 1932:101)

Pit River: "Spearing fish from canoes by torch light was, and still is, practiced…The torch (manui) consisted of four mountain mahogany sticks about two feet long, tied together at one end.  Pitch was put between the sticks." (Garth 1953:136)

Pit River: "In former times, digging stick were made of green mountain mahogany wood sharpened to a point which was hardened in the fire.  DB asserted that they were formerly double pointed." (Garth 1953:139-140)

Pit River: "[In regards to the Apwaruge stone ax] The stone head was set in the split end of a twelve-inch oak or mountain mahogany handle and was bound fast with sinew." (Garth 1953:152)

Pit River: "[In regards to felling trees] Two or three such wedges, which were sometimes of mountain mahogany or other hard wood, were driven into the log at spaced intervals with a heavy stick." (Garth 1953:155)

Pit River: "[In regards to the sweat dance and dancing] The fire was built high with dry mountain mahogany (BayiBup), pine (mĭtskup), and sometimes with willow (Bácu), all woods which burned without much smoke; the ventilator door was closed and the dance began." (Garth 1953:172)

Modoc: "[In regards to sinew-back wooden bows] Mountain mahogany used for bows." (Voegelin 1942:190)

Klamath: "Pâks.- In gathering camas, a pointed instrument, in the old days usually made of the wood of mountain mahogany, Cercocarpus ledifolius, is thrust into the ground and the bulbs pried out.  A modern camas stick, manufactured by an Indian blacksmith, was made of a bar of three-fourths inch steel 76 cm. (30 inches) long, with a crossbar at the top 12.7 cm. (5 inches) long, the lowermost 10 cm, or more tapering to a sharp point, and bent forward about the diameter of the bar." (Coville 1897:93)

Klamath: "Yök'-mä-läm.- The well-known mountain mahogany of the region, oftener called simply mahogany, a small tree commonly 3 to 5 meters (10 to 16 feet) in height, common in openings of the yellow-pine forests, particularly at their lower elevations.  The exceedingly hard wood of the tree was formerly used for root diggers or camas sticks, and for the heads of fish spears...The coast species, C. betulaefolius Nutt., crosses the Cascade Range through the valley of Klamath River, and may have been used also among these Indians.  It has large toothed leaves similar to those of a birch or alder, while C. ledifolius has smaller, narrow, entire leaves with revolute margins." (Coville 1897:98)

Klamath: "For taking the many species of water birds which are so abundant about the lakes, there were several interesting devices. The most specialized and unusual of these is an arrow made with a cane shaft and a point of mountain-mahogany." (Barrett 1910:247)

Klamath: "[In regards to other fishing harpoons, spears] Mountain mahogany wood." (Voegelin 1942:174)

Klamath: "[in regards to gathering] (Digging Stick) made of mountain mahogany." (Voegelin 1942:175)

Distribution Map: