Medford's city arborist and a local botanist have teamed up to propagate a rare and endangered tree in city parks, though they had a bumpy beginning.

MEDFORD — The city's arborist and a local botanist have teamed up to propagate a rare and endangered tree in city parks, though they had a bumpy beginning.

Bill Harrington, arborist for the city of Medford, and Frank Callahan, who sells seeds for trees and shrubs through Callahan Seeds in Central Point, are trying to germinate seeds from Chihuahua spruce trees in Fichtner-Mainwaring Park.

Callahan planted the trees as seedlings in 1990 after he brought them back from an expedition to Mexico. The Chihuahua spruce, an evergreen native to northwest Mexico, now exists in only about 25 small populations due to heavy timber harvest of the popular tree.

"It's very upright," said Callahan. "It forms a nice pole-like trunk."

It turns out the tree with prickly blue-green needles is tolerant of the Rogue Valley's high temperatures in the summertime. The trees in Fichtner-Mainwaring, now 18 feet tall, are growing 2 to 3 feet per year.

"It's the spruce on steroids," said Callahan.

With approval from the Parks and Recreation Department, Callahan planted four of the seedlings in Fichtner-Mainwaring Park 17 years ago. But due to parks staff turnover and the passage of time, communication about the trees and their origin fell by the wayside.

Two months ago Callahan was driving down Stewart Avenue and saw workers had cut down one of the four trees to make room for new tennis courts.

He contacted staff to halt further cutting, and the parks staff has since modified the tennis court plans to accommodate the three remaining trees.

Harrington said he had no idea about the history of the trees and saw an opportunity to forge an alliance. He has since collected cones from one of the spruces, and he plans to send them to a nursery in Washington for seed germination. He hopes eventually to have hundreds of seedlings he can plant around the area.

"I'm going to plant some of these in Alba Park," he said.

Such plantings may end up saving the unique tree.

"The thing is disappearing in the wild," said Callahan. "If in fact they lose the species in Mexico we'll have a seed source in Oregon."

Callahan has also planted some endangered yew trees in Medford's Hawthorne Park and Lithia Park in Ashland. He said now that Medford has an arborist and he and the parks department have reestablished communication, efforts to protect vanishing tree species can take off.

"One day we'll have a sanctuary park or an arboretum with endangered species," he said. "The seed has been planted. It took the loss of a tree to get this going, but you can turn this whole thing around."

Reach reporter Meg Landers at 776-4481 or e-mail mlanders@mailtribune.com.