Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - The University of Texas at Austin information

 Native Plant Database

Parkinsonia aculeata

Retama, Paloverde, Mexican paloverde, Jerusalem thorn, Horsebean, Lluvia de Oro

Fabaceae (Pea Family)

Parkinsonia aculeata (Retama)
Marcus, Joseph A.
Paloverde is a spiny shrub or small tree, as high as 30 feet but normally half that, with long, graceful, slightly drooping branches bearing many long, delicate leaves and sprays of yellow flowers. The 5 yellow petals of the flower, 1/32/3 inch long, are almost equal, but 1 has a honey gland at its base and soon becomes red; it remains on the stalk longer than the others. The Paloverde has a profusion of blossoms through the warm months, especially after rains. The seedpods are 35 inches long, narrow, and constricted between the seeds. The leaves are unusual. The leaf stem produces 2 stalks, almost parallel and 1518 inches long, with 1025 pairs of leaflets on each. The leaflets usually fall off during the summer, and the stems then carry on the function of leaves.

Native from central Texas south as far as northern South America and west to Arizona, this is a very fast growing, graceful-looking tree for poor soils, with unusual green bark and a long bloom period. It is drought-, heat-, and saline tolerant. This beautiful but thorny tree does 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. The drought leaf loss is not necessarily an aesthetic problem, though, because chlorophyll production shifts to the trunk and branches, rendering 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. This tree requires full sun.

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Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Tree
Leaf Retention: Deciduous
Leaf Arrangement: Alternate
Leaf Complexity: Bipinnate
Leaf Shape: Linear
Breeding System: Flowers Unisexual , Monoecious
Inflorescence: Raceme
Size Notes: Normally 12-15 ft but can reach 36 ft.
Leaf: Light green
Flower: Flowers in 5-6 inch racemes
Fruit: Light green, 2-4 inch legume
Size Class: 12-36 ft.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: Yellow
Bloom Time: Apr , May , Jun , Jul , Aug


USA: AL , AZ , CA , FL , GA , HI , LA , MS , NV , NM , SC , TX , UT
Native Distribution: Southern half of Texas west to Arizona, south through Mexico and Central America to northern South America. Naturalized elsewhere; to 4500 (1372 m).
Native Habitat: Flood plains, bottomland, hillside chaparral, disturbed grasslands

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Low , Medium
Light Requirement: Sun
Soil Moisture: Moist , Dry
Drought Tolerance: Medium
Heat Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Well-drained soils of any type: sands, loams, clays, caliche, etc. Does well in disturbed soils and poor soils and tolerates salinity and occasional flooding.
Conditions Comments: Requires full sun and good drainage but will grow in any soil type. Defoliates during severe drought, when its trunk and branches will become an even brighter green as chlorophyll production shifts there from the leaves. Give protection from north winds in cold regions, as it can be damaged by frost. In moist soils, will seed out so much that it can become difficult to control.


Use Ornamental: A popular, fast-growing tree widely used as an ornamental and hedge plant in warm regions.
Use Wildlife: Nectar-insects, Browse, Seeds-granivorous birds, Seeds-Small mammals, Nesting site, Cover
Use Food: The foliage and pods have been used as emergency forage for livestock, as well as by wildlife. Bees produce fragrant honey from the flowers.
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Fragrant Flowers: yes
Interesting Foliage: yes
Attracts: Birds , Butterflies
Nectar Source: yes
Deer Resistant: Moderate

Last Update: 2015-11-09