The Engelmann Spruce plaque, Sulphur Mountain

Jan 12, 2021

Midway through the walk up Sulphur Mountain near Banff, you might notice an odd plaque, just off the trail, nailed to a tree.

It’s so worn down that it’s hard to make out, and it took us a few minutes of pouring over photos to puzzle out what it says. The answer was simpler than we’d expected. The plaque names the tree it’s attached to as an Engelmann Spruce. The Engelmann is a high altitude tree, generally growing at 900 m (3,000 ft), and ranges from up north in BC and Alberta down to northern California, and southeast into Arizona and New Mexico. They’re a slow growing tree, reaching maturity in about 150 years, and live 400 years or more.

The plaque’s second line is even harder to make out, but we can see “Engel” repeated a couple times more. This is the tree’s botanical name in Latin, Picea Engelmannii Engelm, which should more correctly be Picea engelmannii Parry ex Engelm.

The tree was named for George Engelmann by his protege Charles Christopher Parry, who validly published the spruce’s name. Both their names are are included after the botanical name by convention of botanical author citation. By my reading, the citations appear backwards because it was Parry who validly published the name, and therefore should appear after the “ex” instead of before, but I am not a botanist. Either way, Parry seems to have been shortchanged because his name doesn’t appear at all.

So, the plate’s full reading is:

Engelmann Spruce
Picea Engelmannii Engelm

It looks so old that we speculated that it may have been installed by Norman Sanson himself, famous for hiking Sulphur Mountain for thirty years to take weather recordings at the summit, regardless of what the elements through his way. That would have been around the early 1900s, but again, is pure speculation.

Thanks Dad for tipping me off to various arcana around biological naming conventions and Sulphur Mountain history.

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