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Better Plant Information Newsletter

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Better Plant Information

My plant books (Plants of the Metroplex, Plants for Houston and the Gulf Coast, Plants for Texas, Herbs for Texas, Texas Trees, Organic Vegetable Gardening and Texas Gardening - the Natural Way) cover many trees, shrubs, groundcovers, perennials, annuals, food crops and special plants. Each of my plant books and the books on other subjects cover the information in different ways. They aren't all the same. All of that information in my books is being consolidated on the web site.

Parkinsonia shown here is the first plant to have more comprehensive information. It hit me that this improvement was needed because one of my listeners recently asked me about the toxicity issues with Parkinsonia and I realized that information was lacking.


COMMON NAMES: Parkinsonia, Jerusalem Thorn, Retama, Horsebean, Cloth-of-Gold, Crown-of-Thorns, Barbados Fence Flowers, Palo Verde, Mexican Palo Verde

Parkinsonia aculeata (park-kin-SOH-nee-ah ak-you-lee-AH-tah)

Fabaceae (Legume, Bean or Pulse Family)

Deciduous tree

HEIGHT: 12 to 30 feet, has been seen growing up to 40 feet.
SPREAD: 15 to 20 feet
FINAL SPACING: 12 to 15 feet

NATURAL HABITAT AND PREFERRED SITE: It can grow in wet soils but is extremely drought tolerant and will do very well up through the center of Texas. Native from central Texas south to northern South America and west to Arizona, this is a very fast growing, graceful tree for poor soils, with unusual green bark and a long bloom period. It is drought - heat - and salt tolerant. It is beautiful but thorny and best in spots that are neither too moist nor too dry. With too much moisture, it will seed out aggressively. With too little moisture, it will lose all its leaves. Drought leaf loss is not necessarily an aesthetic problem, because chlorophyll production shifts to the trunk and branches, giving them an even brighter green. The word Jerusalem in the common name Jerusalem Thorn does not refer to the Middle Eastern city but is a corruption of the Spanish and Portuguese word girasol, meaning turning toward the sun.

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IDENTIFICATION INFORMATION: Graceful, deciduous, airy tree with long thin compound leaves, yellow summer flowers, green bark and is heavily armed with thorns.

FLOWERS AND FRUIT: Fragrant yellow flowers in spring and summer, especially after rains. Racemes are 5 to 6 inches long. The pea-shaped flowers persist for at least a week. Fruits form as slender pods 2 to 4 inches long, constricted between the seeds, brown at maturity. Seeds are green, turning brown at maturity.

BARK: Bark is thin, smooth, green, turns reddish brown with small scales on older trunks.

FOLIAGE: Leaves are compound with tiny leaflets. Overall leaf is 8 to 16 inches long. Leaflets are only 1/3 of an inch long or less. The leaf mid rib, branches and twigs are green so they also provide photosynthesis.

CULTURE: Parkinsonia is easy to grow in a wide range of soils, even high salt conditions. Can grow as far north as Dallas/Fort Worth but risks freeze damage there during severe winters. Grows best in the moist, deep soils but is strongly drought tolerant. During drought it shed the small leaflets leaving only the mid ribs of the leaves which are green and can continue to manufacture necessary sugars for survival. Fast growing when young, relatively short lived, tolerates moist soil but doesn’t like sopping, heavy, wet clay soils.


PROBLEMS: Freeze damage possibilities above zone 8. Seedlings can become somewhat a problem by sprouting up all over the place.

PROPAGATION: Easy to grow from cuttings or seed but acid or physical scarification treatment is needed to aid germination. Physical damage such as filing the seed coat and/or soaking in liquid humate or seaweed can also aid germination. Garrett Juice will also work.

INSIGHT: It is probably risky to invest a lot of money in this plant for use north of Dallas/Fort Worth.


Food - The sweet fruit pulp and seeds are edible.

Fodder - Foliage and pods are browsed by livestock. The large, fragrant, golden yellow flowers easily attract bees.

Fuel – Sapwood is yellowish and thick, heartwood light or reddish-brown; wood moderately hard and heavy, fine textured, brittle; burns well and is used for firewood and charcoal.

Timber - The heavy timber is too small for lumber but is used for light poles and posts.

Poison - Leaves have been reported to be at times containing hydrocyanic acid and thus toxic.

Medicine - Leaf, fruit and stem decoctions can be taken orally to treat fever, malaria and as an abortifacient. Flower and leaf extractions in alcohol are applied as a poultice to treat rheumatism.

Erosion control - As it grows in arid areas and in sandy soils, it can be used to help eroding and sandy soils.

Reclamation - Useful for reclamation of wastelands, gullied areas and mining areas.

Nitrogen fixing - Although this tree is a legume, its nitrogen-fixing ability is not clearly understood. Young plants respond to fertilizer.

Ornamental - Attractive ornamental with unusual foliage, vivid flowers and a smooth, green bark.

Boundary or barrier or support - Its browse resistance and stout thorns make it valuable as a live fence for protecting arable fields in arid and semi-arid areas.

If you have any questions on this newsletter or any other topic, tune in Sunday 8 am -11 am (CST) to the Dirt Doctor Radio Show. Listen on the internet or find a station in your area. The phone number for the show is 1-866-444-3478. Please share this newsletter with everyone in your address book and all of your friends on Facebook and Twitter to help me spread the word on organics.

Naturally yours,


Howard Garrett

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