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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.

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

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Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

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Saturday - May 30, 2009

From: San Jose, CA
Region: California
Topic: Non-Natives
Title: Problems with non-native Chinese pistache tree in San Jose CA
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

We have a Chinese Pistache tree that is between 25 and 30 years-old. Over the past couple years, we have observed more and more branches dying. They turn black, and remain leafless in the spring, when new growth appears on the rest of the tree. It is a sidewalk tree in a square of about 4 feet. Also, we've noticed two characteristics on the trunk. The first is random spots of fuzzy yellow matter. Another is that on the main trunk, there appears to be a black blob. One day, I did notice a black beetle run across the trunk. Is this poor tree a victim of a pest or a fungus? Is there hope? We would like to save the tree without the service of an expensive arborist.

ANSWER:

Pistacia chinense is native to China, Taiwan and the Philippines, and therefore out of our range of expertise.  The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is committed to the care and propagation of plants native not only to North America but to the area in which they are being grown. Here is a website from the USDA Forest Service which might give you some information you need. 

However, while we have your attention, may we give you a couple of reasons why we would be happy if you replaced your tree with something native? First, read this Texas Invasives.org Plant Detail Page on Pistacia chinense. Then, check out Dave's Garden Forum on Chinese Pistache. There are two very negative opinions about the tree, one from Texas and one from San Jose, CA.

Since there are apparently a lot of this tree in San Jose, we suggest you go to the University of California Cooperative Extension office for Santa Clara County, CA. They should be able to help you with the diagnosis and treatment of the tree's problems. 

 

 

 

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