The Garden Guy – The Chinese Pistache Tree

Chinese pistache trees may be male or female. Female trees produce red fruits that ripen to purple. Though not edible, birds find them delicious. (Photo by Norman Winter)

By Norman Winter

The flaming fall foliage of the Chinese pistache trees stands as visual testaments that they are indeed champions of color. The fiery oranges, reds and yellows scream as if to say, “Look at me.” Believe me, you will, and if you are packing a camera, you will take a photo. They are not to be ignored.
When I was director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens, I would walk by an old specimen every day and then out of the blue, so to speak, I noticed an old USDA tag hanging down that said it was planted in 1938. Happy 80th birthday!

This tree stands as one of the true testaments to one of our country’s great plant exploration acquisitions, the Chinese pistache. This was discovered by plant explorer and horticultural hero, if you will, Frank Meyer.

If you are not familiar with the Chinese pistache, botanically speaking it is known as Pistacia chinensis. I first became acquainted with the Chinese pistache when it was selected as a Texas Super Star Winner. Texas fall color is sometimes hard to come by, but this tree is rock solid and reliable. In California, it has been used as a rootstock for the delicious pistachio nut trees, though other species have now been chosen.

The Chinese pistache is also drought tolerant. It is recommended in places like New Mexico and Arizona and is native to Western China. When selecting your location, keep in mind that it does not like wet winter feet, so choose a site that drains well.

It is cold hardy from zones six through nine, meaning from St. Louis to Orlando, gardeners can relish the dark green leaves that become a blaze of fall color.

To read more pick up a copy of the November 2018 NTFR issue. To subscribe call 940-872-5922.