New Mexico is an ecologically diverse state, with a range of hardiness zones in NM from USDA Zones 4 – 9. This, and its unique geology, gives NM the fourth-highest plant diversity in the USA.
So, even though you may not imagine trees when you think of NM, there is a rich diversity of native trees from the arid lowlands, where few will grow to the highest mountain peaks, where coniferous trees dominate.
Let’s look at some common, iconic, and unique native trees of NM and their identifying features so you can go and enjoy them in their natural environment.
20 Trees Native to New Mexico and How to Identify Them
Deciduous Trees Native to New Mexico
Gambel Oak is a common New Mexico oak found throughout most of the state, including the south, where the elevation is high enough to escape the most intense summer heat.
Gambel Oaks are small oak trees that are often multi-stemmed and frequently form thickets, but some taller single-stemmed specimens can also be seen, particularly in areas with better access to water.
These oaks have the lovely classic lobed oak leaves; they are dark green and somewhat thick, and in the fall, they can turn red, orange, yellow, or brown with multiple colors, often on the same tree.
This cold-hardy tree is also extremely drought-tolerant thanks to its deep roots and tough leaves. It also tolerates alkaline and calcium carbonate-rich soils and prefers semi-arid climates with low humidity and open forests where they can get proper ventilation, which all explains why it grows so well in NM.
Gambel Oak Identifying Features:
Gambel Oaks are deciduous, often multi-stemmed clumping and spreading shrubs or small trees with gray or brown scaly bark, 4 – 6-lobed 1.6 – 6.3” long leaves that are half as wide and have dark green upper surfaces and dull green lower surfaces with prominent veins. Acorns are solitary or paired, up to 1” wide and 1.3” long with a gray-hairy cupule with closely appressed tuberculate scales covering ¼ to ½ of the light brown nut.
Other Common Names: Scrub Oak, Bush Oak, White Oak
USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 10 – 30 ft (to 60 ft) tall, 10 – 20 ft spread* *Size depends on available water
Flowering / Fruiting Season: Inconspicuous flowers bloom from March to April; acorns mature in autumn
Gray Oaks are exceptionally long-lived, drought-tolerant shrubs or small trees native throughout NM, thriving in the semi-arid foothills with mild winters and hot summers. They are also popular xeriscape trees in towns and cities throughout the American Southwest.
These oak trees have unique leathery dull blue-green to gray-green leaves that are usually not lobed like other oaks but may be toothed. The leaves may be semi-evergreen in warmer climates or turn a vibrant crimson-red in the fall in areas with colder winters.
Like Gambel Oak, the size of Gray Oak is determined by the available moisture. Where there is more access to water, it will grow taller; otherwise, it remains as a shrub.
These tough oaks will grow in most soil types, including acidic or alkaline, dry or moist, provided they are well-drained. You will not find them in clay, compacted soils, or wet sites.
Gray Oak Identifying Features:
Gray Oak is a deciduous or semi-evergreen multi-stemmed shrub or small tree with contorted branches and gray grooved bark, plus thick, leathery grayish 0.6 – 3.15” long leaves that are ⅔ – ⅞ as wide and have entire or toothed margins but are not lobed, and the lower surfaces are dull grayish or yellowish with very prominent veins. Acorns are single or paired, small (about 0.7” long at most), with thin nuts covered about halfway with a cupule with tightly appressed red-brown scales.
Other Common Names: Shin Oak, Scrub Oak
USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 5 – 35 ft tall, 5 – 30 ft spread* *Size depends on available water
Flowering / Fruiting Season: Inconspicuous flowers appear from March to May; acorns mature in early autumn
Netleaf Hackberry is another deciduous tree native throughout most of New Mexico, growing naturally in valley bottoms, foothill slopes and bluffs, and the dry prairies of central NM.
While these trees prefer growing in full sun to partial shade in moderately moist soil, they are also hardy trees that are highly tolerant of heat, drought, wind, cold, short-term flooding, and poor, rocky, dry, salty, acidic, or alkaline soils. As a result, they can be found in a variety of habitats throughout NM.
Netleaf Hackberry produces sweet, edible berry-like fruits that are loved by wildlife and are sometimes grown or wildcrafted by people and made into jellies or dried and added to savory dishes. The quality of the fruit can vary with growing conditions, often being drier and thinner-fleshed in the more arid sites.
Netleaf Hackberry Identifying Features:
Netleaf Hackberry is a deciduous shrub or small tree with a narrow trunk with gray bark and corky ridges. Its leathery leaves are ovate (egg-shaped) 0.8 – 1.75” long (sometimes longer) with conspicuous net-like veins on their pubescent-hairy upper and lower surfaces and entire to half-serrated margins. Flowers are very small, blooming in small clusters in the axils of young leaves; flowers are followed by reddish-black berry-like drupes that are sweet and edible.
Other Common Names: Western Hackberry, Douglas Hackberry, Netleaf Sugar Hackberry, Texas Sugarberry, and in Spanish, Acibuche, Palo Blanco; its scientific name is sometimes called by its synonym Celtis laevigata var reticulata.
USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 10 – 30 ft tall, 10 – 25 ft spread
Flowering / Fruiting Season: Flowers bloom in March and April; fruits mature in late summer and persist into winter
Fremont’s Cottonwood is native mostly along the Rio Grande River Valley in western NM, but scattered populations are also found in the southwest corner and in eastern NM.
Like most other types of poplar trees, Fremont’s Cottonwood is incredibly fast-growing, as much as 10 – 20 ft in a single year when young, but this also translates into a relatively short lifespan for a tree, from about 40 to 60 years on average.
These trees grow naturally along streams, rivers, and seepage areas with access to surface or groundwater. They will not be found in the open arid, or semi-arid deserts without a water source.
NM also has the Rio Grande Cottonwood, a subspecies of the Eastern Cottonwood that grows in similar locations but is more prevalent east of the Rio Grande than Fremont’s Cottonwood. They can be differentiated by Fremont’s Cottonwoods’ more yellowish leaves with heart-shaped bases.
Fremont Cottonwood Identifying Features:
Fremont’s Cottonwood is a tall deciduous tree with pale tan bark that is deeply grooved or V-grooved, with multiple leaf sizes and shapes on the same tree. Leaves are generally diamond-ovate to triangular-ovate in shape, often with heart-shaped bases, yellowish-green on both surfaces, finely to coarsely crenate-serrate margins, and usually 1.6 – 3.2” long. However, smaller and larger leaves are also seen. Loosely 10-35-flowered catkins are 1.5 – 4” long and expand in fruit when capsules form.
Other Common Names: Alamo Cottonwood, Arizona Cottonwood, Gila Cottonwood, Western Cottonwood
USDA Growing Zones: 5* – 9 *sources do not agree; some also say 2 or 3 – 9, but given its natural range, 5 – 9 is more likely true
Average Size at Maturity: 80 – 115 ft tall, 25 – 35 ft spread
Flowering / Fruiting Season: Drooping catkins bloom from March to April; capsular fruits mature in early summer, releasing cottony seeds for wind dispersal
Trembling Aspen is a common site high in the mountains throughout northern and western NM, where the temperatures are cooler because they require intensely cold winters in order to thrive, and they are intolerant of high heat.
Even though they are called aspen trees, these are another type of poplar tree, like the cottonwood above.
Trembling Aspens are interesting trees with smooth, usually white or whitish bark that is photosynthetic, allowing them to continue growing without leaves, albeit more slowly.
The bark is even more interesting for its usually highly conspicuous black scars caused by animals, people carving into them (please don’t!), and branch scars typically in the shape of eyes that make it look like the forest is watching you.
In the fall, the Trembling Aspens leaves turn a vibrant shade of yellow that contrasts beautifully with its white bark for a spectacular fall color display.
Trembling Aspen Identifying Features:
Quaking Aspen has characteristically white, grayish, or greenish photosynthetic bark that is thin and remains mostly smooth its entire life other black scarring, mostly rounded to ovate leaves with short to long-pointed tips and finely crenate-serrate toothed margins on flattened leaf stalks that are about as long as the leaf. Flowers are in ¾ – 2 ¾” long, densely 20 – 130-flowered catkins that elongate when their narrowly egg-shaped 0.08 – 0.28” long capsules form in them.
Other Common Names: Quaking Aspen, American Aspen, Golden Aspen, Mountain Aspen, Trembling Poplar, and in Spanish, Álamo Blanco, Álamo Temblón
USDA Growing Zones: 2 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 25 – 75 ft (to 115 ft) tall, 10 – 30 ft spread
Flowering / Fruiting Season: Drooping catkins appear March – June, depending on the location; cottony capsular fruits mature in summer
Bigtooth Maple is a small native NM maple tree that grows in the mixed forests in the southern mountains from high in the foothills up to high elevations.
These trees have classical lobed maple-like leaves, but the Bigtooth Maples of NM tend to have smaller leaves than in some areas where it is found, perhaps an adaptation to the low humidity environment. Their leaves turn vibrant shades of red and gold in the fall and then often remain on the trees for some time after turning brown.
Bigtooth Maple gets its name from the lobules on their lobes, usually described as very large teeth. Telling the difference between a lobe, lobule (small lobe), and a tooth takes practice, but it can be done.
Since this tree is a subspecies of the eastern Sugar Maple used to tap sap for making maple syrup, they too could be tapped for syrup-making.
Bigtooth Maple Identifying Features:
The Bigtooth Maple has 3-5-lobed leaves with blunt lobes with 3-5 large rounded teeth or lobules on each of the lobes. It has thin gray to dark brown bark with narrow grooves and plate-like scales that are easily damaged. Its inconspicuous yellowish flowers appear in early spring with the leaves, and later that summer, it produces rose-colored samaras (winged nutlets) that are fused at about 60 degrees to each other.
Other Common Names: Canyon Maple, Rocky Mountain Sugar Maple
USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 20 – 35 ft (to 50 ft) tall, 10 – 20 ft spread
Flowering / Fruiting Season: Inconspicuous flowers appear with emerging leaves in April or May; fruits (samaras) mature later in summer
Velvet Ash is a lovely large tree native mostly to southwestern NM in the Gila Forest region, often found growing in riparian areas in association with Arizona Sycamore. However, scattered populations also occur in other locations throughout the state.
Like most ash trees, the Velvet Ash has inconspicuous flowers. However, it is still a very popular landscape tree in the American Southwest that is widely planted for its compound leaves that make excellent shade trees and turn a beautiful shade of yellow in the fall. These trees are also popular for their fast growth, drought tolerance, and tolerance of any soil type and urban conditions.
Velvet Ash gets its name from its new shoots that are velvety to the touch and from its new leaves that also feel soft and velvety when they emerge in the spring.
Velvet Ash Identifying Features:
Velvet Ash is a highly variable small tree with a narrow trunk with rough-scaly and grooved gray-brown bark, velvety-puberulent new shoots, deciduous odd-pinnate compound leaves that are 3.9 – 9.8” long with 5 – 7 (3) 1.6” or longer leaflets with entire or finely serrated margins on long petiolules. Flowers are inconspicuous, lacking petals, green or yellowish-green, and arranged in tight clusters that appear in late winter; fruits are single-seeded winged samaras 0.6 – 1.2” long and appear in clusters near the ends of the branches.
Other Common Names: Arizona Ash, Modesto Ash, Desert Ash, Leatherleaf Ash, Smooth Ash, Standley Ash, Toumey Ash, Fantex Ash, Fresno (Spanish)
USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 11
Average Size at Maturity: 20 – 50 ft tall, 20 – 60 ft spread
Flowering / Fruiting Season: Inconspicuous male or female flowers bloom in spring; if both male and female trees are present, samaras will mature later in summer
Honey Mesquite is a slow-growing deciduous shrub or small tree native throughout southern NM in the arid and semi-arid lowlands and foothills, thriving in hot, sunny areas with little access to water.
However, these trees are not cold-tolerant and won’t be found in northern NM or the mountains.
In hotter and drier areas, Honey Mesquite will grow as a thicket-forming thorny shrub loved by desert wildlife for cover. In areas with more water, they may grow into small trees.
Honey Mesquite is a tough tree that tolerates any soil except for clay and even grows well in highly alkaline and calcium carbonate-rich soils. Their tolerance to urban pollution and reflected heat from asphalt makes them a popular xeriscape tree for city streets and parks.
Sometimes people harvest the edible legumes and eat them fresh, make them into jellies or fermented beverages, or dry them and grind them into flour.
Honey Mesquite Identifying Features:
Honey Mesquite is a thicket-forming spiny shrub or small tree with odd-pinnate compound leaves with 7 – 17(-20) pairs of 0.4 – 2.4” long, narrow leaflets that are mostly clustered on short but large lateral spurs, but they may be alternate on new growth. Creamy-yellow flowers are individually very small but packed into conspicuous ascending or drooping spikes also clustered on spurs. Fruit is a 4 – 8” (to 11.8”) long, narrow legume that starts green, often matures to red, may become twisted, and finally becomes woody as it ages.
Other Common Names: Glandular Mesquite, Texas Honey Mesquite, in Spanish Algarroba, Mezquite
USDA Growing Zones: 7 – 11
Average Size at Maturity: 10 – 35 ft tall*, 10 – 40 ft spread *Height depends on available water
Flowering / Fruiting Season: Flowers emerge in April and may bloom again in August when it rains; edible legume seed pods mature in August
Arizona Sycamore is a fast-growing tall native sycamore tree that grows naturally in New Mexico along the Rio Grande River Valley and in the Gila National Forest.
These beautiful deciduous trees have attractive, deeply lobed maple-like leaves that turn yellow in the fall and attractive grayish-mottled bark that can make them easy to recognize even without their leaves.
Even though Arizona Sycamore grows in the semi-arid and arid southwest, it usually only grows in riparian areas, often growing alongside the Velvet or Arizona Ash in areas that have regular access to surface or groundwater since it is not drought tolerant. However, it can usually handle high heat without suffering from leaf scorch if it has a water source.
While they prefer humus-rich soil, they can also grow in poor sandy, clay, and highly alkaline soils, provided they can access water.
Arizona Sycamore Identifying Features:
Arizona Sycamores are tall trees with thick, contorted branches, mottled light gray flaking bark that reveals white bark beneath, and dark green very deeply 3 – 5(-7)-lobed thick maple-like leaves that are 3.5 – 9.9” long and about as wide with entire or finely serrated margins. Flowers are individually very small, arranged in conspicuous spherical heads up to 0.8” in diameter that later turn into spherical fruits made of achenes.
Other Common Names: In Spanish, Aliso, Sicomoro, Álamo
USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 25 – 85 ft tall, 20 – 60 ft spread
Flowering / Fruiting Season: Flowers bloom from April to May; fruits mature in early fall
Flowering Trees Native to New Mexico
Desert Willow is my favorite native flowering tree in NM. I love its gorgeous pink and magenta trumpet-shaped flowers that bloom all summer anytime after it rains, and its long thin legume-like seed pods that remain on the trees all winter.
These are extremely drought-tolerant shrubs or small trees that grow naturally throughout southern NM in full sun in the arid and semi-arid desert foothills and lowlands, where most trees do not grow.
Desert Willow is not at all related to willow trees, but they get their common name from their long, thin willow-like leaves that remain green and beautiful even in the most intense summer heat and droughts.
They are very tough trees that tolerate all kinds of soils, including poor, acidic, and highly alkaline. They are also highly tolerant of urban pollution, so they are often planted as street and shade trees throughout the American Southwest.
Desert Willow Identifying Features:
Desert Willows are large deciduous shrubs or small trees with dark gray bark that becomes scaly and flaking when mature, ascending branches with 2 – 5” long, thin, linear leaves that are both opposite and alternate and often in condensed whorl-like clusters. Two-toned 1.2 – 2.4” long flowers are lavender-pink to magenta, sometimes purplish, and tubular with bilateral symmetry. Fruits are 5.1 – 12.6” long, thin legume-like capsules that persist on the branches all winter.
Other Common Names: Bow Willow, Flowering Willow, Flor De Mimbre, Mimbre, Willowleaf Catalpa, Willow-Leaved Catalapa
USDA Growing Zones: 7 – 11
Average Size at Maturity: 15 – 30 ft tall, 10 – 20 ft spread
Flowering / Fruiting Season: Mostly blooms in May and June but will bloom again throughout the summer after it rains; seed pods mature in late summer and persist all winter
The New Mexico Locust is another beautiful flowering deciduous shrub or small tree native throughout most of New Mexico. They grow naturally as an understorey tree, often alongside Gambel Oak in the low to high mountains.
They have gorgeous, fragrant bright pink or white pea-like flowers that appear in drooping clusters from spring to early summer. Their flowers and tolerance of urban conditions make them popular as a landscape tree, often planted in towns and cities throughout NM.
They produce highly poisonous bean-like seed pods that should never be eaten, even though the flowers themselves are edible.
New Mexico Locust grows in full sun or light shade in any moist or dry, well-drained soil, including poor, limestone, and calcium carbonate-rich soils that are strongly alkaline, so it grows well in NM’s more challenging soils.
New Mexico Locust Identifying Features:
New Mexico Locust is a heavily branched thicket-forming deciduous shrub or small tree with bristly shoots, reddish-purple branches, and odd-pinnate compound leaves 4 – 6” long with 7 – 15 blue-green pubescent-hairy leaflets with a pair of sharp reddish-brown thorns at their base. Showy, fragrant pea-like white or rose-pink flowers are arranged in drooping inflorescences, followed by thick, hairy, poisonous legumes.
Other Common Names: New Mexican Locust, Southwest Locust, Desert Locust, Pink Locust, Rose Locust, Hojalito
USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 5 – 25 ft tall, 5 – 15 ft spread
Flowering / Fruiting Season: Flowers bloom from spring to early summer; legume seed pods mature in late summer
Fragrant Ash is a beautiful but uncommon species found only in scattered populations throughout the American Southwest and Northern Mexico. In New Mexico, it can be found growing in the southern foothills.
This tree is my favorite ash tree and my second favorite NM native tree. Unlike most ash trees with inconspicuous non-fragrant flowers, the Fragrant Ash has conspicuous white flowers that are intensely fragrant. When you find one in bloom, you just can’t help but stop to smell the flowers, and if you’re like me, you might return in the fall to collect seeds so you can grow your own.
These small trees grow naturally in the desert foothills on rocky slopes in full sun or partial shade, where they tolerate extended droughts, cold, and any soil type, including highly alkaline, as long as it is well-drained. They will not be found in low-lying areas with wet soils.
Fragrant Ash Identifying Features:
Fragrant Ash is a multi-trunked shrub or small tree with slender branches and smooth or slightly cross-checked bark, 7” long deciduous odd-pinnate compound leaves with 3 – 9 pointy-tipped leaflets that are 1.4 – 2.8” long, thin, and light shiny green, turning yellow in the fall. Intensely fragrant 1 – 3” long white flowers have four linear white petals that are joined into a tube at the base. Fruits are single-seeded winged samaras that hang in clusters near the branch tips.
Other Common Names: None
USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 8 – 15 ft (to 20 ft) tall, 8 – 12 ft spread
Flowering / Fruiting Season: Flowers bloom in May and June when the new leaves are emerging; samaras mature mid to late-summer
Allthorn is a unique slow-growing shrub or small tree native to the southern ⅓ of New Mexico.
These are heat-loving, drought-tolerant trees that are not very cold-hardy, so they only grow in the lowlands or foothills.
Like the Palo Verde Trees, Allthorn photosynthesizes through its green trunk (when young) and branches. Its inconspicuous leaves are very small and scale-like and only emerge after it rains.
Instead of leaves, Allthorn has many small, intricate, rigid green branches that twist and tangle, creating great cover for desert wildlife. These small branches are all tipped with very large, ferocious, green thorns, giving it its common name. Be careful when admiring these trees; the spines are very sharp!
In the spring, or after a rain, Allthorn produces profuse small white flowers all along its branches. These are followed by small edible reddish-purple berries that birds and jackrabbits love.
Allthorn Identifying Features:
Allthorn is a spreading, somewhat rounded shrub or small tree with photosynthetic trunks and branches and rounded, intricate, tangled green twigs that are tipped with large green thorns. Scale-like leaves are small and inconspicuous and only emerge after the rain. Flowers are greenish-white or cream with four petals and four sepals. Fruits are reddish-purple berries that are 0.2” in diameter with a small mucronate tip from a persistent style.
Other Common Names: Crown of Thorns, Crucifixion Thorn, Junco, Corona de Jesus, Corona de Cristo
USDA Growing Zones: 8 – 11
Average Size at Maturity: 6 – 8 ft (to 30 ft) tall, 6 – 8 ft spread
Flowering / Fruiting Season: Flowers appear in late spring but can also bloom any time of year after a rain; edible reddish-black berries mature in fall
Evergreen Trees Native to New Mexico
These trees are native to most of New Mexico, excluding the southeast corner. They grow naturally anywhere in the semi-arid foothills or at elevations of 4,000 – 7,000 feet.
Pinyon Pines are a common tree that typically grows in association with One Seed Juniper and Alligator Juniper in the Pinyon-Juniper Woodlands that cover millions of acres in the American Southwest. These highly understudied and undervalued woodlands are considered poor-quality land and are often converted to agricultural uses, but they have numerous ecological, environmental, and wildlife benefits.
Pinyon Pines are highly drought- and cold-tolerant trees that grow best in poor, well-drained soil that is low in organic matter with a neutral to alkaline pH, which explains their abundance in NM.
Pinyon Pine Identifying Features:
Pinyon Pine is a small or medium-sized pine with a tapering erect trunk, red-brown irregularly grooved and scaly bark, and dense rounded conical crown. Branches are persistent near the base of the tree. Its 0.8 – 1.6” long curved blue-green leaves are arranged 2(1 – 3) per fascicle (bundle) with pale stomatal bands on all surfaces. Symmetrical egg-shaped to nearly rounded seed cones are 1.5” long and pale yellow-brown to red-brown, and short-stalked to nearly stalkless and do not persist on the tree much past maturity.
Other Common Names: Piñon Pine, Two Needle Pinyon Pine, Rocky Mountain Piñon, Nut Pine, Rocky Mountain Pinyon Pine, Colorado Pinyon
USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 8(9)
Average Size at Maturity: 15 – 30 ft (to 70 ft) tall, 15 – 30 ft spread
Flowering / Fruiting Season: Pollen is released from cones in spring; seed cones mature in early fall in the second or third year, depending on environmental conditions
Ponderosa Pines are tall, impressive NM evergreen trees with long, graceful, needle-like leaves and distinctive cross-checked red and black bark.
These trees are native to most of New Mexico, with numerous botanical varieties found throughout the state, resulting in variation in their appearance, depending on where they are found.
Regardless of the variant, they all like to grow higher in the foothills, where the Pinyon Pines start to grow taller, or low in the mountains, where the air is still dry since they do not tolerate humidity very well.
They tend to grow in locations with full sun and deep, moist soils but also tolerate a wide range of soils, including dry and alkaline.
Their impressive size and tolerance to drought and poor soils make them a popular landscape tree throughout their native range, wherever they have room to grow.
Ponderosa Pine Identifying Features:
Ponderosa Pine has distinctive thick reddish-brown or sometimes yellow-brown bark with black, often somewhat cross-checked grooves and an open, rounded to conical crown. Its leaves are variable from 2.75 – 11.75” long, pliant, bright green, and arranged in fascicles of 2 – 5. Leaves on the shorter side of the range (2.75 – 6”) in fascicles of two or three at most seem common in NM, likely an adaption to the exceptionally low humidity. They produce numerous stalkless egg-shaped seed cones that are 3 – 5” long, often seen scattered beneath the tree.
Other Common Names: Western Yellow Pine, Bull Pine, Black Jack, Western Red Pine, Western Longleaf Pine, Filipinus Pine
USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 60 – 100 ft (to 236 ft) tall, 25 – 30 ft spread
Flowering / Fruiting Season: Pollen release pollen from April to June; seed cones mature the next August or September (two-year cycle)
Available at: Nature Hills
One Seed Junipers are native juniper trees in New Mexico, widespread in the state’s northern half but also found in central and southern NM. It is so common in NM that one of its common names is New Mexico Juniper.
These multi-stemmed shrubs are extremely drought-tolerant and occasionally grow into small trees where more water is available.
One Seed Junipers thrive in full sun or partial shade in any poor-quality soil as long as it is well-drained. They can even thrive in some of the most alkaline soils found in NM.
These shrubs often grow in nearly pure stands in dry open flats or rocky slopes. They are also common in the lower to middle elevation foothills, growing alongside Pinyon Pine.
Their name comes from their seed cone, usually having only one seed, which helps differentiate it from other junipers in the area that usually have more seeds per cone.
One Seed Juniper Identifying Features:
One Seed Junipers are multi-stemmed shrubs or trees with rounded to somewhat flattened crowns, gray to brown fibrous bark that’s sometimes flaky, and 4 – 6-sided twigs. Scale-like leaves are green to dark green, 0.04 – 0.12” long, and mostly do not overlap each other. Whip leaves are 0.16 – 0.24” long and are glaucous on the upper surface and sometimes have white crystalline exudate on the glands on the lower surfaces. These mostly dioecious shrubs have small (0.24 – 0.32”) rounded to ovate fleshy berry-like seed cones that are reddish-blue to brownish-blue, resinous, with conspicuous triangular umbos (protrusions) and usually one (to 3) seed per cone.
Other Common Names: Cherry-stone Juniper, Oneseed Juniper, New Mexico Juniper, West Texas Juniper, in Spanish Enebro, Sabina
USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 6 – 25 ft (to 59 ft) tall, 6 – 10 ft spread
Flowering / Fruiting Season: Male trees release pollen in spring; berry-like seed cones mature on female trees in late summer or early fall of the same year
Alligator Juniper is by far my favorite juniper. I love it for its distinctive bark cracked into squarish plates like the skin on an alligator, giving it its common name.
Also, at least in the Sacramento Mountains, it often has the most eye-catching silver-blue leaves that just pop out against the rest of the greens and browns. Other times, the leaves are a more subdued but still quite vibrant blue-green.
This small to medium-sized single-stemmed juniper tree grows in open woodlands in the dry, arid foothills and low mountain slopes. Alligator Juniper is mostly restricted to the southern half of NM since it is not as cold-tolerant as many other junipers.
While these trees grow best in full sun in slightly acidic soil, they are highly adaptable and can even be found in highly alkaline and limestone-based soils, provided they are well-drained.
Alligator Juniper Identifying Features:
Alligator Juniper is a single-stemmed small to medium-sized tree with distinctive cross-checked brown bark, erect 3 – 4-sided twigs, and green to glaucous silver-blue scale-like leaves 0.08” long that don’t overlap and have conspicuous egg-shaped glands on the lower surface that usually have no exudate. Whip leaves are 0.12 – 0.24” long and are not glaucous on their upper surface. Female trees produce relatively large (0.3 – 0.6”) berry-like seed cones that are glaucous reddish-tan to reddish brown and contain 1 – 7 large seeds per cone.
Other Common Names: Checkerbark Juniper, Western Juniper, Oakbark Cedar, Thickbark Cedar, Mountain Cedar, and in Spanish, Tascate, Tacate, Tlascal
USDA Growing Zones: 7 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 20 – 40 ft (to 65 ft) tall, 20 – 25 ft spread
Flowering / Fruiting Season: Male trees release pollen in spring; berry-like seed cones mature on female trees the following year in late summer (two-year cycle)
These beautiful trees are native to all the major mountains of NM with enough elevation to give it the cold winters it needs to thrive; they will not grow in the foothills or lowlands where the weather is too warm and dry.
White Fir are important long-lived climax forest species with great wildlife values but are also valued in the logging industry.
These cold-hardy trees prefer growing in slightly acidic, well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade. They typically will not grow in strongly alkaline soils or clay.
White Fir are popular ornamental landscape trees in the mountains, and they are also used as Christmas trees for their symmetrical pyramidal form and long needle-like leaves.
White Fir Identifying Features:
White Fir has a symmetrical pyramidal form with thin, smooth, gray bark that thickens and develops yellowish to reddish vertical grooves as it matures. Its leaves are long for a fir at 1 – 3 ⅛” long with rounded or slightly notched tips. Leaves are attached in flattened rows directly to the twigs appearing as though they are suction-cupped on, differentiating them from the Douglas Fir which is not a true fir and has leaves that attach to the twigs via petioles (leaf stalks). Leaves are gray-green or sometimes dark green with some stomata on the upper surface and strong white stomatal bands on the lower surfaces. Seed cones are high in the tree and rapidly disintegrate, so they are rarely seen.
Other Common Names: Concolor Fir, Colorado Fir, White Balsam, Rocky Mountain White Fir
USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 7
Average Size at Maturity: 50 – 150 ft (to 246 ft) tall, 40 – 60 ft spread
Flowering / Fruiting Season: Pollen cones release pollen in spring; seed cones are rarely seen because they mature and rapidly disintegrate later that fall
Available at: Nature Hills
Engelmann Spruce is a tall spruce tree native to New Mexico but only at higher elevations in the northern and southern mountains.
These very large, long-lived trees are critical components of the high-elevation forests in NM. They may grow in pure stands or in association with Douglas Fir, White Fir, Trembling Aspen, and Rocky Mountain Bristlecone Pine, providing abundant wildlife values.
These cold-loving trees only grow at high elevations in NM because they like short, cool, humid summers and long, cold winters. They can even be found growing as krummholz (dwarf shrubs) when they are found growing so high in the mountains they are at the alpine tree line.
Engelmann Spruce prefers full sun and moist, well-drained soils, but they will be found on both slopes and valley bottoms throughout the mountains.
Engelmann Spruce Identifying Features:
Engelmann Spruce has a narrow pyramidal to spirelike form, very thin grayish-brown bark that becomes purplish-brown and broken into loose scales when mature, and short, compact horizontal branches that it retains to near ground level. Needle-like bluish-green 0.8 – 1.2” long leaves are four-sided and acute-tipped but not nearly as sharp as most spruce trees; they have two broad stomatal bands on the lower surface and several thin ones on the upper surfaces. When mature, the 1.5 – 2.4” long seed cones are light brown with papery seed scales.
Other Common Names: White Spruce, Mountain Spruce, Silver Spruce
USDA Growing Zones: 2(1) – 7
Average Size at Maturity: 70 – 130 ft (to 200 ft) tall, 15 – 30 ft spread
Flowering / Fruiting Season: Pollen cones release pollen in spring; seed cones mature in the fall of the same year
The Chihuahua White Pine is a gorgeous native tree found throughout the mountainous areas of New Mexico.
Its pyramidal form and graceful blue-green needle-like leaves are similar to the Eastern White Pine, but being adapted to growing in the south, they are more heat and drought-tolerant and better suited to life in NM.
In NM, the Chihuahua White Pine grows throughout the mountains on slopes and bluffs in full sun in moist, well-drained soils that are acidic to slightly alkaline. They will tolerate salty conditions but will not be found in clay, wet, or compacted soils.
The Chihuahua White Pine and Pinyon Pine seeds were an important food source for native peoples in the area. Birds, squirrels, and other wildlife also love them.
Southwestern White Pine Identifying Features:
The Chihuahuan White Pine is a slender straight tree with spreading-ascending branches and silvery-gray bark that becomes dark gray-brown and grooved with rough rectangular plates as it matures. Needle-like 1.6 – 3.15” long leaves are soft, pliant, straight, dark green to blue-green, with conspicuous narrow stomatal bands on the upper surface but none on the lower surface; like other white pines, they are arranged in fascicles (bundles) of five. They produce egg-shaped creamy brown to light yellow-brown seed cones on up to 2.4” long stalks.
Other Common Names: Mexican White Pine, Arizona White Pine, Southwestern White Pine, or in Spanish, pino blanco, pinabete, and pino enano
USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 80 – 100 ft tall, 20 – 40 ft spread
Flowering / Fruiting Season: Pollen is released in spring; seed cones mature in September of the following year (two-year cycle)
Noble Trees Native to New Mexico
New Mexico may be more famous for its deserts, chili peppers, and pecans, but it is a state that has 28% of its land covered in forests.
New Mexico has a lot of interesting, beautiful, and unique native trees, from the arid lowlands where only a handful of trees can grow, to the slightly higher pinyon-juniper woodlands, the mixed forests in the high foothills and low mountains, all the way to the high mountains with their beautiful huge coniferous evergreens.
I hope you have enjoyed learning more about these native beauties. Now you can go out and identify them in their natural habitat. Happy hiking!
- 20 Native Trees of New Mexico (With Identifying Features)
- 12 Drought-Tolerant Trees for Your New Mexico Xeriscape
- 9 Best Fruit Trees for New Mexico (That Will Really Thrive)
- 10 Flowering Trees in New Mexico to Brighten Your Landscape
- 10 Shade Trees for New Mexico (Including Fast-Growing)
Lyrae grew up in the forests of BC, Canada, where she got a BSc. in Environmental Sciences.
Her whole life, she has loved studying plants, from the tiniest flowers to the most massive trees.
She is currently researching native plants of North America and spends her time traveling, hiking, documenting, and writing.
When not researching, she is homeschooling her brilliant autistic son, who travels with her and benefits from a unique hands-on education about the environment around him.