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Dallas Morning News - July 17, 2019

Why I Now Dis Chinese Pistache

Most of the trees I advise avoiding are insect or disease prone, short lived in general or require too much maintenance. But there is one tree that no longer has my backing that doesn't fit those profiles. It's called Chinese pistachio or Chinese pistache (Pistachia chinensis).


Here's the story.


I first met this beautiful tree while writing my first book, Plants of the Metroplex, in 1974. The design firm of Boyd and Heiderich first told me about the tree. Then I stumbled across a big one – a really big one – at the corner of Armstrong and Turtle Creek in Dallas. Besides my first book, it is also shown in my Texas Trees book. Years after I had been recommending it, A&M proclaimed it an Earth-Kind Texas Superstar. I'm now more than happy to let them have the “honor” of discovering it.


Chinese pistache at corner of Armstrong & Turtle Creek, Dallas


For many years I designed this Asian introduction into about every one of my landscape designs. Easy to transplant, quick growth, clean foliage through the growing season and usually beautiful fall color that can range from yellows to bright red. For years we didn't notice the problem because the young trees were not producing fruit. The huge on off Turtle Creek was a male and couldn't produce fruit.


Fall color on huge Chinese pistache at Armstrong & Turtle Creek, Dallas


Once the young trees in the landscape matured enough, the fruit on female trees started to appear. The berry-like fruit is really pretty, starting out red and later turning dark blue, which is the time it becomes viable and will germinate – easily. Birds really like it. They eat a lot of the berries and then spread them far and wide. Unfortunately, a large percentage of the seeds germinate and become little trees quickly.


Chinese pistache fruit


Today this beautiful non-native is on the official state and national invasive species lists. That's because it is coming up everywhere. I recently removed about 50 small trees from our front yard – and there are no female trees on our place or on any of the immediate neighbor’s property. The birds are bringing it in.


Red fruit is immature

When fruit turns blue it is viable and will germinate


If you could identify and purchase only boy trees, it would be a different story – but you can't. The female red and blue fruit just doesn't show up soon enough at the farms and in the garden centers. If you have female Chinese pistachios, cut 'em down. Replace with colorful natives that don’t become invasive. Bigtooth maple (Acer grandidintatum) and Prairie or flame sumac (Rhus lanceolata) are two great native choices. Texas red oak (Quercus texana) is also good but as I have mentioned, there are already a great number of them in the landscape.


Part of the problem? I'm guilty, but trying to be a leader of the solution.




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