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Paloverde

Travelers to desert regions of Arizona, Texas, and California have long taken comfort in the colorful paloverde, a tough little tree that brightens the arid landscape with its attractive form and spring-time flowers. The paloverde is unusual in many ways, including its lack of leaves in all but the spring of the year, and its ability to thrive by photosynthesis performed in the bark of its limbs and twigs as well as in its leaves.

But it is the paloverde's glorious golden flowers, blooming after the brief winter rainy season, that make the tree best known and loved. Small leaves appear at about the same time as the flowers, usually in March and April, with both flowers and leaves falling when the summer heat begins and leaving the tree’s graceful, drooping branches to relieve the eye and provide food and shelter for various forms of wildlife.

The Paloverde’s Place in History

Today as in the country’s early history, travelers to America's desert regions prize the paloverde in bloom, causing one species, blue paloverde, to be named Iluvia de oro, or “shower of gold.” Native Americans have long eaten the seeds and seedpods of blue paloverde, sometimes grinding the seeds and cooking the flour as a kind of nutritious gruel. For centuries paloverde has also been a source of sustenance for a variety of wildlife, including jackrabbits, rodents, desert birds, and burro deer.

Some Common Species

Blue paloverde (Cercidium floridum) is perhaps the best known paloverde in the United States, in part because its flowers appear earlier in the spring and benefit from the cooler conditions to achieve a more glorious golden color than other species. This tree is also slightly taller than other native paloverdes, sometimes reaching 25 to 30 feet, and so can be a desirable landscape or street tree. It takes its name from the blue-green color of its bark and leaves and can be found naturally in washes and beside culverts and bridges from central and southern Arizona to southwestern California. (Grows in hardiness zones 9 to 10)

Yellow paloverde (Cercidium microphyllum) is a slightly smaller tree, usually no more than 20 feet tall, which is named for its yellow-green bark. It is also known for its striking yellow spring flowers, which appear several weeks later than those of blue paloverde and are paler in color. Yellow paloverde tolerates arid conditions better than blue paloverde and so has a wider range, making it one of the best known emblems of the Arizona desert. Yellow paloverde grows naturally in southern California and Arizona. (Grows in hardiness zones 9 to 10.)