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Friday - January 21, 2011

From: Merced, CA
Region: California
Topic: Shade Tolerant
Title: Shade trees for horses in Merced, CA
Answered by: Nan Hampton


I would like to plant some trees to provide shade for horses in the pasture. What native trees are drought resistant (water may be spotty in the summer) yet safe for the animals? I live in the California central valley, and the soil in the pasture is clay. I would put a fence around the trees to protect them.


First, let me tell you which trees are not safe to plant around horses.  Avoid all Quercus species (oaks) and Prunus species (plums, peaches, cherries, apricots, etc.).  Also, do not plant Acer rubrum (scarlet maple) or any Acer species—see Toxic Plants of Texas.  Most pine species are not listed on any toxic plant database, but Pinus ponderosa (Ponderosa pine) does appear on several of the databases below and should not be planted near cattle or horses.

Now, here are some that are safe and will provide shade for them:

Fraxinus dipetala (California ash) is a small deciduous tree (up to 20 feet) with fragrant white flowers.  Here are photos and more information.

Populus fremontii (Fremont cottonwood) is fast-growing and grows to 60 feet, but it does like moderate water.  Female plants produce cotton (the seeds), male plants do not.  The 'Nimbus' variety is male.  Here are more photos and information.

Platanus racemosa (California sycamore) grows fast and can reach 30 to 80 feet, but will need water until established.  Here are more photos and information.

Cercis orbiculata [syn. Cercis occidentalis var. orbiculata] (California redbud) is a small tree (up to 15 feet) with pink blossoms in the spring.  Here are more photos and information.

Umbellularia californica (California laurel) is evergreen and a slow-grower to 40 feet.  Here are more photos.

Here are databases that you can use to check on toxicity of plants to horses and other animals:

Pennsylvania's Poisonous Plants from the Universtiy of Pennsylvania

Cornell University Plants Poisonous to Livestock

Toxic Plants of Texas

ASPCA's Toxic and Non-Toxic Plant List - Horses

Horse Nutrition: Poisonous Plants from Ohio State University Extension Service

10 Most Poisonous Plants for Horses from Equisearch


Here are photos from our Image Gallery of some of the trees listed above:

Populus fremontii

Platanus racemosa

Cercis orbiculata

Umbellularia californica



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