Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tuesday's Trees- Chinese Pistache

Pistacia chinensis is an outstanding tree that is being used more frequently as a 'street tree'. Considered a medium sized tree, average height is somewhere between 25 and 35 feet with a similar spread. It can reach a height of 60 feet, though that is not typical. It is a lovely vase shape tree with large evenly compounded pinnate leaves. The leaflets are approximately 2 to 4 inches in size.

Many of the web sites tell of the gorgeous fall color of red to orange. This puzzled me as our tree in the photographs is from the Learning Garden. My first awareness of our tree was last fall. I was taking pictures for use within the Cooperative Extension Office. The tree didn't have a metal sign and the wooden stake with the name was unreadable. After making the ID for the tree I was still puzzled. I had an article about tree fall color foliage ---Chinese Pistache was listed as a wonderfully bright red fall color. WHAT?? It took a lot more investigation to convince me that is was indeed a Chinese Pistache. I guess you could say I like double documentation. I did find a few references that include yellow as the fall color. It is beautiful in the garden.

Proper pruning is needed with this tree as the lower branches can droop. The upright vase shape also has V-shaped crotches that need to be managed for strong structural growth. Some reports with my reading say that some have thorns, ours does not. The bark is gray-brown and as it matures will flake off to show a salmon red to orange inner bark. Ours is still a young tree.

It is a dioecious tree and the flowers have gone unnoticed by me on our specimen. It can spread by seed that because of that there are a few conflicting documents about its invasiveness. Both documents are from Texas—two claiming it to be a wonderful tree for planting, Texas Superstars (quick overview) and Texas Tree Planting Guide- (advocating this tree for Texas )and against planting it, Austin Growgreen (advocating NOT planting this tree as it is invasive in Central Texas, spreads by seeds). If you live in Texas be sure to check with your Extension office to see what the status is for your county.
The zonal range for this tree is pretty wide. It is hardy from zones 6b- 9. While not a native to the US it has been used in urban areas with less than perfect growing conditions and done well.  

University of Florida- great information on a 3 page document
University of Florida Extension- good information from Cooperative Extension
Tree New Mexico - public education and advocacy website for trees in New Mexico
University of Arkansas- Plant of the Week profile
North Carolina State- brief overview of the tree
Virginia Tech- one page reference sheet- my applets for the pictures didn't load, not sure if they will for you.

***please note that I continue to update fall foliage pictures

to past tree profiles, be sure to check back (spring photos will include

flowers and budding)**

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Next week's tree is –Cryptomeria japonica


  1. Our mayor, over much ado and controversy-even after more than 10 years there is still controversy, planted several dozen of these trees alongside a street that runs along the river. I personally find the expense was well worth it and they look great. I haven't seen them this week but I believe their fall color is also yellow. A few years back when I trained as a tree steward I had to volunteer some hours. Some of those hours were spent with my son limbing these trees up. It was easy but the debris we produced on a busy highway with folks honking their horns was nerve wracking to me. I won't soon forget these trees. The controversy continues because the businessmen are unhappy the trees will block their signs. They can't see past that and the $6000 it costed to plant them, not to mention they finally hired arborists to come trim these trees. But let me tell you, on a hot day in summer these trees provided some nice shade in the concrete 'jungle' so it was money well spent in my book.

  2. Hello Janet,

    We grow this beautiful tree here in the desert too! I love it's large size and it is one of the most reliable trees for providing fall color here in the desert.

  3. Janet, I think every Tuesday I say I'm not familiar with this tree:) But this time I really have never heard of this one! I feel a little better now seeing that it is hardy only to zone 6, so it's probably not planted where I live. It looks like a lovely tree with such a nice shape to plant on the side of a street. If it were hardy here, it would be a good alternative to our ashes that are now threatend by the emerald ash borer.

  4. There's a least CP at the JC Raulston Arboretum -- that one did turn bright red in the fall.

  5. The one in your post must be the exception. I have seen many this fall in spectacular color that holds for several weeks. They are quite red at the top and gradually fade to orange in the middle, ending with yellow. All of these were Norfolk city trees in full sun, so maybe light has something to do with it. The flowers are sparse but interesting.

  6. What a great looking tree. It does deserve to be planted more often.

    Always Growing

  7. Not sure if I've ever seen this tree... thanks for the lesson!

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  8. hi Tina, sounds like a lot of history for you and this tree...wow!

    Hi Noelle, Nice to know it is in your area too! So what color is yours? red or yellow?

    Hi Rose, I need to look for trees that are in your zone as well. Will keep that in mind as more trees are added to the lineup. Emerald Ash borer is really a problem.

    Hi Sweetbay, good to know. I was really in a quandry about the fall color with this one.

    HI Helen, mystery solved eh?

    Hi Les, It is certainly in the minority of fall foliage color. Ours is in the edge of the wooded area of the garden, perhaps that is part of the issue. I challenged the ID of the tree, right down to seeing the receipt for it. ;-)

    Hi Jan, it seems to be a good one.

    Hi Ginger, you are welcome.
    Happy Thanksgiving to you as well.

  9. What a beautiful tree. I love the lacy foliage ~ reminds me of a locust?? Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family too Janet!

  10. Hi Kathleen, the leaflets are quite a bit larger than a locust tree's leaflets. It is a nice lacy tree.

  11. Thanks for the continued tree education. This is another good one. Have a wonderful holiday!

  12. Janet, I love the first photo~~it really is lovely and shows what a nice form it has against the sky. It's too bad that so many of the absolutely lovely trees and plants misbehave in our gardens and in the wilderness! I love learning about the trees that we see in our part of the world! Happy Thanksgiving to you.

  13. Hi Janet, thanks again for this valuable service. Could the difference in fall color be from different cultivars? It seems odd that there is such a difference, but maples are all different colors so why not? In Houston, this was on a list of trees to plant, considered an asset. Hard to keep up sometimes. Do have a wonderful Thanksgiving! :-)

  14. Janet,
    Not many native trees I don't know in the southeast, never heard of this one before. Learned a bit and will be looking for it. It does look familiar likely seen it in landscaping before. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  15. Hi Janet,

    Ours are both. But I do love the red the best.

  16. I never see this planted in CT so I have to question that hardiness rating a bit. All the specimens I have seen out west had a wicked red fall color. Just a guess but if they are raised from seed (don't know) there could be some variation from that.

    Have a nice Thanksgiving.

  17. Happy Thanksgiving!

    The Chinese pistache in the Garden (SC Botanical Garden) turns a brilliant dark orange-red each fall. It's quite a nice tree, and is now large (maybe 40-50 ft tall?)


  18. Hi Janet,

    First, I hope you had a nice Thanksgiving holiday...now, as for the pistache, I have one, that is a yellow to orange (it's getting more orange as it gets older). I've read that it is important to purchase one of these in the fall, when you see their color - because they are variable and some are just the less vibrant yellow color. I saw one here in Charleston a few weeks ago that was a gorgeous scarlet red - so I think the key might be to buy the right tree to begin with!

  19. Good morning Megan, thanks! Hope you had a good holiday as well.

    Hi Gail, thanks, it is a nicely shaped tree. Not sure about the misbehaving problems with it, the information was pretty vague. Hope yours was a good holiday!

    Hi Frances, a service? really? wow, thanks! I think the fall foliage diffences could be cultivars, though Les had a good thought on the sunlight issue. Not sure. Hope your Thanksgiving was wonderful.

    Hi Randy, This isn't a native, but is being used more and more in landscapes. Hope your Thanksgiving was great.

    Hi Noelle, Good to know that you have both colors, perhaps it is a cultivar issue. thanks!

    Hi Helen, thanks!

    Hi Chris, I would question the hardiness on some of these fact sheets, sometimes it is different from one fact sheet to another. Not sure about having been raised from seed, though that could be a possibility as well. thanks, I did have a great Thanksgiving, hope you did too.

    Hi Lisa, thanks! sounds like the Chinese Pistache is one I will have to look for in the SC Garden! Hope your Thanksgiving was great!

    Hi Pam, yes it was a nice holiday, love having the house full! I will have to check our Pistache in the garden and see if it is getting orange, though I don't remember it doing so last year. You are correct about buying the right tree! I like the variety of fall foliage color.


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