Santa Fe, New Mexico
Analysis and Technical Description
December 28, 1996
Forrest N. Easley, Forester; Wood Technologist


The following is an analytical description of the botanical properties of a small speciman of wood which was taken from the upper-inner stringer of the Loretto-Chapel staircase approximately where it joins the choir balcony front girder timber. The speciman measured three quarters of an inch squarish by one eighth-inch in thickness. I was typical of the remaining original staircase wood, and it included the "white plaster" coating which was applied many years after the staircase construction was completed.

Since the true identity of the wood used to construct this truly beautiful and "mysterious" staircase has always been an item of conjecture and mystery, every effort to honestly examine and study the wood from every technical standpoint has been made over a period of fifteen months.

The approach to this important study was and is to approach it with a totally open mind with absolutely no personal opinions or "feelings" regards either the identity of the wood or its origin. However, it is admitted that this investigator is most humbled and gratified for being allowed this opportunity to participate in such an important study of a very Holy place such as the Loretto Chapel, especially its famous staircase. Therefore, the information presented herein is as accurate as this researcher has been able to make it and the statements made herein are totally unbiased.

Presented below is the actual highly technical description of the wood speciman from the Loretto Chapel staircase. The same format is used in its presentation as used in the Key to Coniferous Woods which is appended to this description. The purpose of including the "key" is to provide technical descriptions of closely-related genera and species of woods that not only were locally available at the time of construction of the staircase, but were, and are, timber species used for lumber and were, and are, extremely good structural materials.

Upon close examination of each of these descriptive paragraphs in the "key", one finds that there are threads of similarity among all the coniferous (evergreen) tree species. Yet, also, one notices there are certain characteristics that are markedly different between one species and its "sister" species of the same genus. That is to say that, for example, for the genus Picea (Spruces), there is a member of the genus with a species name "sitchensis" which bears the common name Sitka Spruce. Also, in the same genus, there is another species with the name "engelmannii" which bears the common name Engelmann Spruce. Both are beautiful spruce trees and are both very excellent lumber species. However, Engelmann Spruce was usually inaccessible to logging because it grows at much higher elevations near timberline. In addition, and more importantly, there are many microscopic differences in the wood cells themselves which set the two species apart and, thus, establish two separate species as well as differing structural qualities.

With that background, the following descriptive "key" to the physical, mechanical, and nonmechanical characteristics is presented.

Based on Gross and Minute Features

The microscopic technical characteristics of the speciman wood smple from the staircase in the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico were examined under a variable-power hand lens for general characteristics and under a compound microscope at the magnifications varying between 50X to 450X.Both macroscopic and microscopic views of the cross sections and longitudinal samples were observed, and the intracellular characteristics were ccompared to other similar genera and species in an effort to positively identify this speciman. Comparative data were taken from university-level texts used at the College of Forest Sciences, Colorado State University as well as the investigator's long experience in similar studies and reporting.

First, the sample was studied and , after determining its basic characteristics, was placed in its proper position in the "key" list of plants, a "key" long used by professional botonists, foresters, and colleges of forestry and forest sciences. The wood was determined to be "cone-bearing" and "evergreen" with an "unjointed woody stem".

A further step to a more exacting identity required the examination of the internal structure of the cellular arrangement and function. As can be seen in the following descriptive "key", only one genus in indicated: PICEA

At the end of the "key", is presented a summary of this study and a table of comparative data that presents the features of related species in an effort to show any relationship of the sample speciman under study to the "known" tree species named and described in approved and professionally accepted documents and publications.

As can be seen, no specific species is indicated, but a wood that fits between Picea sitchensis and Picea engelmannii.


Therefore, I, the investigator, hereby assign the following names to the thus-far unnamed species within the genus Pinacae Picea:

LORETTO SPECIMAN ( Suggested scientific name: Picea josefii Easley)

(Suggested common name: Loretto Spruce )

Wood Non-porous (no vessels). Cross sections consist of radial rows of tracheids distinctly visible; rays are present and appear distinct also to the naked eye.

Resin canals present. Longitudinal canals appear as small openings mostly in the outer portion of the late wood. Transverse canals included in some rays then appear much larger, but sparse, and under a microscope appear as small donuts with a dark outer margin. This is typical to the Picea genus (spruces).

Resin canals numerous, unevenly distributed in the outer portion of every growth ring, generally visible to the naked eye, as light-colored dots or small openings; conspicuous with a hand lens. Epithelial cells are thin-walled.

Tangential surface (split) WAVY (not dimpled or undimpled as in other Picea species). Outer margin of growth increment not distorted.

Wood very strong, light to moderately heavy. Bands of late wood usually narrow and pinkish in color. Early wood light-tanish to light-brown. Late wood forming a band 5 to 10 cells in width.

Heartwood light reddish to light brown. Resin canals small, inconspicuous or not visible to the naked eye. The majority of the resin canals are with a tangential diameter less than 100 um, no visible ray tracheid dentations or, at least, not prominent, not extending across the cell.

Ray parenchyma cross-field pits in early wood small, and occur fewer than 5 per cross field.

Late wood not pronounced. Transition from early wood to late wood is gradual but noticeable.

Heartwood distinct but gradual. Wood as an entity is light-brownish to pinkish tinge at the late wood and is semi-lustrous, fine textured, and the tangential (split) surface is not dimpled, but wavy.

Longitudinal tracheids are more or less square in cross section. Average dimension of 20 to 25 um on each side when viewed in a radial section of wood under a


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