Palo verde update

I receive more comments and questions about our palo verde trees than any other plant in our garden. I don’t know if it’s because homeowners are rethinking their landscaping in the wake of the ongoing drought in the western U.S. and are looking for trees that don’t need much water, or because they simply like the looks of these stunning desert trees. For us, the decision to plant palo verdes was a combination of both, as well as wonderful memories of previous trips to Arizona (the palo verde is the state tree of Arizona).

In this post I chronicled the challenges of sourcing palo verdes in the Sacramento area, especially the very desirable ‘Desert Museum’ hybrid. I finally found what I was looking for at Village Nurseries, a large wholesale nursery. I brought home two 15-gallon trees on September 29, 2013 and planted them a week later.

Fast forward a year and a half. The two ‘Desert Museum’ palo verdes are doing very well. More than that. The one you see below, planted in the strip between our neighbor’s and our house, has exploded. It’s in full bloom now, stopping me in my tracks every time I walk out into the driveway. It’s simply magnificent.


May 9, 2015: ‘Desert Museum’ in full bloom


September 29, 2013: Bringing home two ‘Desert Museum’ palo verdes in our minivan

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LEFT: October 2, 2013: the two palo verdes before planting
RIGHT: October 5, 2013: one of the two in the ground


May 9, 2015: 1½ after planting






Detractors claim that palo verdes are messy trees. I’m always surprised when I hear that. How can that be? The leaves tiny and virtually disappear as soon as they drop. The flowers do create a bit of litter, but I find they easily blow away in the wind. Here are two photos showing the “mess” from the tree above. Granted, it’s not mature yet, but I don’t expect this will ever be a problem. I could name a hundred trees that are far messier!



Here is the second ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde. It’s planted in the strip outside the front yard fence. In contrast to the first tree above, which was planted on a mound in new soil, this tree was planted in existing, fairly compacted soil. The difference in growth is quite noticeable. This second tree, while growing and blooming, hasn’t thrived as much as the first. Not that I mind; as far as I’m concerned it can take its time. In fact, it’s better for palo verdes to establish a solid root structure instead of shooting to the sky with little to anchor them.

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LEFT: October 7, 2013    RIGHT: May 9, 2015



The third palo verde followed six months after the first two. It’s a different hybrid, ‘Sonoran Emerald’, with slightly different coloration (a tinge of blue) and, if anything, even more vigor.

This is what it looked like when I brought it home in our minivan (it was in a #15 can):


March 4, 2013: bringing home the ‘Sonoran Emerald’ palo verde


March 4, 2013: ‘Sonoran Emerald’ palo verde before planting


March 16, 2013: ‘Sonoran Emerald’ palo verde right after planting

And here it is, just 14 months later. The difference is jaw-dropping. Remember, though, that it was planted on top of a 2 ft. mound of new soil, which offered little resistance for its roots. In addition, about of foot of the material below grade was chipped wood from the pittosporum hedge we had removed (the stumps and roots were ground up in place). Clearly, all of these factors combined to create a very fertile growing environment.


May 9, 2015: what a difference just 14 months after planting!


The shrub on the right is yellow bird of paradise (Caesalpinia gilliesii)

None of our palo verdes are watered directly but the beds in which they’re planted are on once-a-week drip irrigation. Drip irrigation is not ideal for desert trees because it doesn’t encourage their roots to grow deep like an occasional soak would, but it’s the best I can offer on a small 8,000 sq.ft. lot.


  1. Lovely! And definitely not messy. The pines and oaks are much messier!

  2. Great to see them doing so well! They certainly tick both boxes of being beautiful and drought tolerant too.

    1. I wish availability in our part of the state would improve. 'Desert Museum' (not to mention 'Sonoran Emerald') are still considered exotic here.

  3. Ahhhhh...! [swoons with envy] Beautiful trees, and the flowers are wonderful. I have two young Mexican Palo Verdes. (Both of them were freebies -- they're thick on the ground in these parts.) Parkinsonia aculuata has thorns, and long rachises that fall to the ground after losing their leaflets. Big tree = lots of rachises. They have the potential to create quite a mess if you never sweep. My Palo Verdes will remain smallish patio trees in their big containers, and I don't expect the leaf litter to be a problem. Your Sonoran Emerald is so gorgeous! I love the Caesalpinia, too -- mine survived the winter but are showing no signs of flowering...

    1. Anybody who plants a flowering tree has to accept a certain amount of litter from the flowers. At least palo verdes don't shed like deciduous trees do. The amount of litter from our neighbor's sycamore is insane during the fall, for example.

      I have two Caesalpinia gilliesii, and only one is thriving (the one you saw in the photo). The other one, which has been in the ground longer, is growing very slowly although it's pushing flowers now.

  4. My Palo Verde at the high school was badly scarred by a fire set by vandals, last fall. I was going to dig it out and replace it with another seedling, but decided to cut it off just about ground level, and wait to see what would happen. Happily, it has sent out quite a bit of new growth from dormant buds on the remaining stump. I am going to thin them out to the strongest one, and hopefully by next spring the plant will be back to it's 8 foot height. I'm not sure which species it is, I was given seed by a neighbor who brought his plant back from Arizona. It is amazing how fast these can grow when given a lot of water. My plant grew from a seed to eight feet in slightly more than two years.

    1. From what I read, the Mexican palo verde (Parkinsonia aculeata) is the fastest growing species (that's where 'Desert Museum' inherited its vigor from). The foothill palo verde (P. microphylla), in contrast, is considered slow-growing.

  5. Like Luisa I am envious. I started writing a blog post (for plant lust) that I haven't ever gotten around to finishing, it was about the "one" (as if there could be such a number) tree you wish you could grow but cannot, because of climate. I LOVE these trees so much. It's fabulous that you've got three in your garden, all doing a little differently - just enough to keep things interesting.

    1. If I had more space--half an acre, say--I'd also plant some mesquite. There are wonderful thornless mesquite hybrids.

  6. They look great and are growing great in your garden. It might be noted that they do better with some serious heat, which I think you have in your area most of the summer? It's a slight bit cool for them hear close to the coast--not winter chill, but insufficient summer heat.

    1. I think you're right about the heat. No lack of that here. We routinely push into the high nineties and beyond although it typically cools off in the evening, even on a hot day.

  7. They're gorgeous trees. I don't think they're messy at all - at least not by comparison to Jacarandas, Albizia or even Magnolias. I looked into them at one point but found that most aren't suited to my area. I've recommended them to my brother who lives in an inland valley, though.

    1. Yes, they're perfect trees for hot inland areas.

      I love jacarandas and almost picked a Jacaranda mimosifolia over the 'Desert Museum' palo verde, but then I read about the mess it makes. Plus, it's far less hardy.

  8. They are lovely and they complement the other plants in your garden perfectly. I love the little yellow flowers...messy not, they are pretty dusting the ground. Here in Houston they call them Retama trees but I believe they are the Mexican Palo Verde. The seem to do fine here even in our clay and rain.

    1. Laurin, the flowers are so cheery. There's something about yellow flowers :-).

      I looked up "retama" and it does seem to refer to the Mexican palo verde (Parkinsonia aculeata). It appears that 'Desert Museum' has smaller leaves and smaller flowers than P. aculeata.

  9. We walked through the blooming Palo Verde at the Annenberg Estate in PS in March. Fell in love with Palo Verde! I'd never seen them bloom like that before. Sadly, won't grow here.
    Can't believe people think they are messy! Try a Hawthorne tree or a Mimosa if you want mess. My Redwood sheds all of the time and dear gawd I'd like to whack down our neighbors' Holly tree.

    1. I'd love to see the palo verdes in bloom at Sunnylands. Good place for a spring break trip next year if the family is willing :-).

  10. We were there the last week in March and it was unbelievable how glorious they were. And you must need an excuse to revisit Mariscal Cactus and Succulents, Gerhard!


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