Chinese Pistache: Shade Tree Superstar For Texas
Which characteristics are most important when choosing a tree to shade and
beautify your home? First, to realize the "Earth-Kind" goal of
attractive, productive plants, with minimum effort but maximum protection
for the environment, an enlightened selection of plant materials is crucial.
Secondly, with the specter of oak wilt threatening live and red oaks in
many areas of Texas, there is an urgent need for more diversity in tree
species being planted in our state.
So what is the
best medium-size shade tree for most areas of Texas? The name is unusual but the
performance is outstanding; it's called the Chinese pistache (pronounced pis-tash'). Botanically it is
known as Pistacia chinensis.
Abundance Of Texas Advantages
Highly recommended for many years by horticultural experts at Texas A&M,
Oklahoma State and Kansas State universities, this native of China possesses
a number of special advantages:
- Regarded by many knowledgeable horticulturists as one of the most beautiful,
pest free and easily maintained shade trees for the Southwest and Gulf Coast
- 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
- 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.
Ugly Duckling To Beautiful Swan
Although considered by many experts to be near perfect for this area of
the U.S., the Chinese pistache does have a couple of minor faults. First,
young pistache in 5-gallon containers (a nice size to purchase) are often
rather awkward and gangling in appearance. Rest assured that after 5-6
years of tender loving care in your landscape, this "ugly duckling"
will have been magically transformed into a most "beautiful swan"
as its canopy develops and begins to mature. Secondly, shaping and pruning
your tree when it's young may be necessary to encourage proper branch spacing
and structure and for best crown development. Even without such pruning
however, the vast majority of pistache will eventually make very nicely
shaped trees on their own.
- Trees 6-8 feet in height, trunk diameter of 1.5 inches, are probably
the ideal size for most homeowners to purchase.
- There can be seedling variation in fall color of pistache, with color
intensity normally ranging from good to spectacular. Thus, shop in late
October, early November when most pistache are exhibiting their fall color.
At this time, you can easily select a specimen with the most attractive
Pistache Culture At A Glance
- Fall planting (September through November) is best. Select a planting
site in full sun, and at least 15 feet from your home to provide sufficient
room for future growth.
- Pistache will not tolerate "wet feet." So if battling a heavy
clay soil which doesn 't drain well, it's best to construct and plant in
a raised bed 6 inches high, 4 feet in diameter.
- With your fingertip, check moisture of the root ball weekly. Water
only when top inch of soil is dry (this may be weekly during a dry summer
but only rarely during a wet winter).
- Mulch immediately after planting. Beginning early next spring, make
light but frequent applications of fertilizer.
Aggie Horticulture | Texas Superstar TM