Pistacia chinensis (Chinese Pistache)
Chinese pistache (Pistacia chinensis) provides a blockbuster drama of vibrant orange and red autumn leaves. In full sun with only occasional water requirements once established, its ornamental value is highly valued in home gardens and streetscapes.
This long-lived Chinese native grows slowly to 30-60 ft. tall and wide, but rarely achieves that height and width in home gardens. Summer irrigation encourages faster growth.
- The mature, wide canopy qualifies it as a good choice for a shade tree in home landscapes, especially when planted on the southwest side of a one-story residence where it allows winter sun to penetrate after leaf drop.
- It can be a desirable tree where space is limited with its usual 35-ft. mature height and crown diameter of 30 ft.
- Pinnate (feather-like) leaves are about a foot long, consisting of 10 to16 narrow leaflets.
- Leaves are an attractive deep green during summer, but their primary season of interest is autumn when they turn brilliant orange and red, rivaling East coast autumn foliage.
- Chinese pistache can be used as a single specimen tree or in spaced groups along a drive for a spectacular display.
- Because of its many attributes, Pistacia chinensis can be found in residential gardens and public lands throughout Sonoma County, in town plazas, and on city streets in many neighborhoods.
Maintaining the Tree
Chinese pistache tolerates many soil types and water conditions, even poor alkaline soils and nearby irrigated areas as long as the soil is well-drained.
- Deep, non-aggressive roots make it a sturdy tree in the wind and a safe selection near patios and sidewalks, although berry drop from female trees may become a nuisance.
- A young Chinese pistache tends to be gawky and often lacks a strong central leader.
- Structural pruning from an early age to remove or shorten unwanted branching encourages the development of a rounded crown with an umbrella-like canopy.
- Leaf drop in late fall is the only significant maintenance issue.
- This deciduous tree is heat and drought-tolerant, well-suited to Sonoma County’s hot, dry summers. It is winter-hardy to 20 degrees, pest-free, and fire resistant.
- One note of caution: Chinese pistache is one of a number of trees susceptible to Verticillium wilt, a soil-borne fungus.
- Proper care is important in preventing this disease, i.e., planting in well-drained soil and fertilizing only as needed.
- If Verticillium wilt has been a persistent problem in your yard or immediate neighborhood, you should forgo this tree. The disease causes shoots and branches to die, often beginning on one side of the tree. Severe cases are not common but can be fatal to the tree.
While related to the pistachio nut tree, this species does not produce nuts. However, if a male Chinese pistache is planted nearby, a female tree will develop panicles of ornamental, inedible bright red berries in fall that turn blue-purple in winter and are a source of food for birds.
- Not all trees for sale in nurseries are labeled either as male or female.
- To ensure that a selection will be fruitless and not produce or drop berries, choose a named male cultivar such as ‘Keith Davey.’ This male selection produces neither pollen nor berries.