En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
2 ratings

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



More Shade Tolerant Questions

Wildflowers suitable for full sun and partial shade in the Dallas, Texas area
October 22, 2007 - What wildflowers are best for the Dallas area both in sunny and semi shade locations? Are you able to purchase by mail?
view the full question and answer

Different shades of green in Taxodium distichum (bald cypress)
June 05, 2008 - I have two bald cypress trees 50 feet apart, but there was very different soil in the two holes. One was a clayey soil and the other was much more the Austin limestone soil. The trees are about 2 ye...
view the full question and answer

Plants for shade, poor soil in Park Ridge NJ
June 17, 2010 - Hello! I live in far northeast New Jersey, by the New York state border. I am looking for plants for areas of my lawn that nothing currently grows in - due to shade and poor soil quality - very rocky,...
view the full question and answer

Erosion Control for a Shaded Slope in Aliquippa PA
May 07, 2014 - What plants. shrubs or trees can I plant to retard soil erosion on a steep shaded hillside in PA
view the full question and answer

Arborvitae thinning in Bucks County, PA
April 09, 2010 - My arborvitae trees are about 11 ft. tall. I had them put in about 3 years ago. They were 8 to 10 ft. when planted. After the first year, I have noticed they are thinning to the point where you can se...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center