Sunday, April 19, 2015

New Courtyard Tree - Chinese Pistache

Around this time last year, we lost our beloved courtyard tree.

It was a sad, sad day.  One of the key reasons we purchased our home was because of the many outdoor living spaces it contained.  The courtyard, complete with tree (type:  unknown), was the real winner of outdoor living spaces.  We were told, about a year and a half ago, that the base was starting to rot out and it would need to be removed.  After a strong wind blew through last spring, the tree finally toppled over onto the house (thankfully there was no damage).

It broke our hearts that we lost the tree.  But we moved on.  My husband did the gruesome tree removal process, complete with stump-grinding.  We waited about a year before planting another tree, just to make sure the previous tree roots decomposed a bit, as well as to give us enough time to consider what new tree to add.  And after much debate, we finally decided on our new courtyard tree, a Chinese Pistache (pistacia chinensis).

With a name incorporating "Chinese" in the title, I'm sure it comes as no surprise that this tree is not a Texas native.  I'll admit, this was a bit of a dilemma for me.  I know the importance of planting Texas natives to our ecosystem and was considering the Texas Ash for some time and almost purchased one.  Then, a landscaping friend mentioned how an ash would create a lot more debris and require a lot more clean-up in the courtyard.  That fact, mixed with the facts that the ash is susceptible to the emerald ash borer, and that my husband much preferred the small-leaf foliage and bright orange and red coloring the tree will have in the fall, resulted in the pistache winning out over the ash.

Since I wasn't planting a native, I wanted to make sure that the tree at least wasn't considered invasive.  The USDA put out a report stating that the tree had a "60 percent probability of being a minor invader and a 35 percent probability of being a non-invader."  Their low to non-invasive status is helped by the fact that female trees do not produce large quantities of seeds until they are established in a landscape for 15 to 20 years.  I do not yet know if a have a male or female tree.  Additionally, because the Chinese Pistache is listed as a Texas Superstar by the Texas Agriculture Extension Service, it put my mind at ease about purchasing a non-native.

Some of the advantages of this tree, as listed by the Texas Agriculture Extension Service include:
  • Regarded by many knowledgeable horticulturists as one of the most beautiful, pest free and easily maintained shade trees for the Southwest and Gulf Coast regions.
  • Winter hardy to central Kansas, the pistache forms a spreading, umbrella-like canopy which at maturity is 40-50 feet high with a width of 30 feet. This is an ideal size to provide shade, enframement and background for single-story homes.
  • Medium to fine textured foliage (an asset in smaller landscapes) that creates a light-textured shade pattern.
  • Foliage that remains an attractive, deep green color during the growing season, even in the rocky, highly alkaline, horribly abused soils common to many new home sites across Texas.
  • Spectacular fall color in shades of orange, red-orange and even crimson, often rivaling the show of sugar maples in the Northeast. In addition to its brilliance, this tree is also one of the most dependable sources of fall color in the lower South.
  • Very acceptable growth rate for such a long-lived species, with 2-3 feet of growth possible each year with good management.
  • The first shade tree to receive the coveted "Earth-Kind" designation from the Texas Agricultural Extension Service for its high levels of genetic resistance to insect and disease problems.
  • Extremely hard, durable wood, which is also very decay resistant, helps protect tree from wind, ice and vandal injury .
  • Superior drought, heat and wind tolerance once tree is established (that is, after 2 or 3 growing seasons).
  • Outstanding adaptability, with beautiful specimens growing form Amarillo to El Paso to Houston. The pistache is superbly adapted to all areas of Texas except the Rio Grande Valley.
  • An extremely tough, durable and adaptable medium-size tree which is tolerant of both urban and rural conditions.
  • Fruit set, only on female trees, consisting of clusters of small, round green berries which turn red to reddish-purple in the fall. These fruit clusters make excellent table decorations. And while inedible for humans, the fruit is relished by birds.

Some stats on my Chinese Pistache:
  • 10 feet tall, 5 feet tall trunk to first branches
  • Trunk is 3 inches in diameter, 8 1/4 inches in circumfrance
  • There are 3 main branches off the trunk
  • Leaflets are 11 inches long, 5 inches wide, with 12-18 leaves that are about 2 1/2 inches long
  • Purchased from Countryside Nursery in Austin, TX
  • Planted on April 16, 2015

I look forward to watching this tree grow in the coming years and plan to post periodic updates on it as part of Lucy's Tree Following meme.


  1. Your Pistache tree looks lovely in the space and will surely bring you joy for years to come. I smiled at the perhaps inadvertent self-portrait reflected in your front window. Hi!

    1. Thanks so much, I really hope that it will and that we picked a good tree for the space and our needs. I'm interested to see what it will look like a couple of years from now.

  2. I'll be excited to see more of your Pistache. It's considered a fairly good selection even here and is said to be the only reliable source of red autumn color in our low-chill, desert environment.

    1. The red color and fall interest were definitely aspects of the tree that made us excited about the selection. I can't wait to see what it will look like this autumn!

  3. Rebecca your Chinese pistache tree sounds like a very good choice, sorry about the loss of your former tree, I understand your concerns about planting non natives, I feel the same, you have been very responsible finding out so much about it in your country before finally deciding, it looks a beautiful tree, Frances

    1. Thanks, Frances. We were really bummed about losing our old courtyard tree, but excited about the prospect of this new one. Now we play the waiting game for a few years until the tree is mature enough to provide the shade we are hoping to get.

  4. Replies
    1. Thanks so much! It looks nice now, and hopefully will be even more beautiful as it matures.

  5. Great pictures of your Pistache! It's always so exciting to get something new in the landscape. You chose a great tree to plant, non-native notwithstanding! We put one of these in our yard, probably eight or nine years ago now and love it! Thanks for all the information on this tree. I wasn't aware of most of it.

    1. Great to hear from someone who has one of these trees already and can vouch for its admirable qualities. I'm really interested to see what it will look like eight or nine years from now.

  6. It's a delightful tree! (And a delightful courtyard.)
    I've added you and your tree to the Loose and Leafy Tree Following Page. Perhaps you would check it's ok.

    1. Thanks so much, and thanks for the add to your Tree Following Page. The links work!

  7. Will be great to watch it through the year ... sounds like fall will be exciting!