Thursday, May 15, 2014

Update on our palo verdes—and a sighting downtown

I was going to post an update on our palo verde trees when my wife told me that the specimen in front of the Davis Food Co-op (620 G Street) is in full bloom. It’s still a juvenile—more large shrub than tree at this point—but it’s covered with cheery yellow flowers that attract bees from far and wide. When I took these photos, the buzz from hundreds of bees was so loud you could hear it from ten feet away.

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The flowers against the California sky dotted with puffy white clouds are a beautiful sight.

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The palo verde has been the state tree of Arizona since 1954. Two species of palo verde are native to Arizona—the foothills palo verde (Parkinsonia microphylla) and the blue palo verde (Parkinsonia florida)—and since the Arizona legislature didn’t distinguish, both are given this honor.

Two other species of palo verde are frequently seen in the Southwest although they’re native to Central and South America: the Mexican palo verde (Parkinsonia aculeata) and the Sonoran palo verde or palo brea (Parkinsonia praecox).

As if that weren’t enough, two thornless and free-flowering hybrids of superior horticultural value are available in the trade: ‘Desert Museum’ (a naturally occurring hybrid between the foothills, blue and Mexican palo verde first identified in the late 1970s by Mark Dimmitt, at the time Director of Natural History at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum outside of Tucson) and ‘Sonoran Emerald’ (presumably a hybrid involving the Sonoran and possibly the blue palo verde but I wasn’t able to find definitive information about its parentage).

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I’m not a palo verde expert and I can’t tell you with certainty what the specimen in front of the Davis Food Co-op is, but its growth habit, flowers and leaves look very similar to our two ‘Desert Museum’.

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The two ‘Desert Museum’ palo verdes I planted last fall in front of our house are much smaller than the one at the Davis Food Co-op and only have a smattering of flowers. But I expect they will be significantly larger—and have many more flowers—next year.

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‘Desert Museum’ #1 in the succulent bed that separates our driveway from our neighbor’s

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‘Desert Museum’ #2 on the other side of the front yard, along the street

As part of our new desert garden bed next to the house—technically outside the backyard fence since we’re on a corner lot—we planted a ‘Sonoran Emerald’ palo verde. This hybrid has denser growth than ‘Desert Museum’, and even our 15-gallon specimen has hundreds of flowers already.

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Palo verdes are uniquely sculptural and extremely drought-tolerant. This makes them ideal trees for our area, and yet they are exceedingly rare. I had a very hard time finding one last fall, and I doubt availability in the Sacramento area has improved since then. The best source in our area continues to be Village Nurseries. That’s where I bought all three of ours, the two ‘Desert Museum’ and the ‘Sonoran Emerald’. They also carry the blue palo verde (Parkinsonia florida) and the Sonoran palo verde (Parkinsonia praecox); if you talk to them, note that their database lists all palo verdes under their previous genus, Cercidium.

10 comments:

  1. These are beautiful plants Gerhard, wish we can grow them outside here!

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  2. I just noticed that our smallish 'Desert Museum' palo verdes are pushing lots of new flower buds. It must be the heat we've been having all week. We might get a nice showing after all, just a little late.

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  3. Just wanted to let you know, Gerhard, I planted the seeds I took off your "Desert Museum" in the fall, and got one plant to come up. It's growing much slower, and is much more compact than the pure P. microphylla I germinated two years ago. It also has an attractive red tinge to the petioles and new growth. It's only 6 inches high at this point and in a quart container, I had hoped to plant it out this spring in the new section of our school's cactus garden (you have to visit again to see how well the garden's doing) but I think it's not going to be big enough to risk it being stepped on or drying out this season. I'm almost surprised it germinated at all, with it being a blend of different species. I'm looking forward to seeing what traits it exhibits as it gets older. Sue

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    1. That's great news! It should grow fast if you give it regular water.

      Our 'Sonoran Emerald' has so many flowers that there should be at least some seeds. You're welcome to them.

      In addition, our Caesalpinia gilliesii has several seed pods you can have once they're ripe.

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    2. I was going to ask about seeds, as a tree that produces that many flowers must produce loads of seeds (and seedlings). Is that not the case?

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    3. There should be plenty of seeds, considering how many flowers AND pollinators (bees) there are. I'll check in a few months.

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  4. Beautiful, a tree I really wish I could grow here.

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    1. Have you tried to grow one in a container? Not sure if palo verde lends itself to that though.

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  5. Love, love, love these! I am going to plant one in my Mother's Day spot. It's a real hot spot and will need some shade!

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    1. You should. It would be the perfect tree for that spot.

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