Parkinsonia aculeata L.
Retama, Paloverde, Mexican Paloverde, Jerusalem Thorn, Horsebean, Lluvia De Oro
Fabaceae (Pea Family)
USDA Symbol: paac3
Paloverde is a spiny shrub or small tree, normally about 15 feet, with long, graceful, slightly drooping branches bearing many long, delicate leaves and sprays of yellow flowers. The 5 yellow petals of the flower, 1/3-2/3 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 3-5 inches long, narrow, and constricted between the seeds. The leaves are unusual. The leaf stem produces 2 stalks, almost parallel and 15-18 inches long, with 10-25 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.
From the Image Gallery
Plant CharacteristicsDuration: Perennial
Leaf Retention: Deciduous
Leaf Arrangement: Alternate
Leaf Complexity: Bipinnate
Leaf Shape: Linear
Breeding System: Flowers Unisexual , Monoecious
Fruit Type: Legume
Size Notes: Up to about 40 feet tall, usually much shorter.
Leaf: Light green
Flower: Flowers in 5-6 inch racemes
Fruit: Light green, 2-4 inch legume
Bloom InformationBloom Color: Orange , Yellow
Bloom Time: Apr , May , Jun , Jul , Aug
Bloom Notes: May flower occasionally year-round after heavy rains.
DistributionUSA: AL , AZ , CA , FL , GA , HI , LA , MS , NM , NV , 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 ConditionsWater Use: Low , Medium
Light Requirement: Sun
Soil Moisture: Dry , Moist
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.
BenefitUse 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
PropagationPropagation Material: Seeds , Semi-hardwood Cuttings
Description: Untreated seed or semi-hardwood cuttings taken in summer.
Seed Collection: Collect when pods are dry and seeds are plump and brown.
Seed Treatment: None required but soaking in hot water for 1 minute can help.
Commercially Avail: yes
Maintenance: Prune to maintain a single or multiple trunk look. To prevent drought defoliation, water during dry spells. To prevent aggressive seeding out, cut back on watering.
Find Seed or Plants
Find seed sources for this species at the Native Seed Network.
National Wetland Indicator Status
From the National Organizations DirectoryAccording to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - Austin, TX
Brackenridge Field Laboratory - Austin, TX
NPSOT - Native Plant Society of Texas - Fredericksburg, TX
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department - Austin, TX
Texas Master Naturalists - Lost Pines Chapter - Bastrop, TX
NPSOT - Austin Chapter - Austin, TX
National Butterfly Center - Mission, TX
Native Seed Network - Corvallis, OR
NPSOT - Williamson County Chapter - Georgetown, TX
Herbarium Specimen(s)NPSOT 0974 Collected Oct 12, 1994 in Bexar County by Harry Cliffe
NPSOT 0141 Collected Sept. 28, 1991 in Bexar County by Lottie Millsaps
NPSOT 0434 Collected May 26, 1993 in Bexar County by Cecil Mayo
NPSOT 0328 Collected May 22, 1987 in Bexar County by Harry Cliffe
Wildflower Center Seed BankLBJWC-1193 Collected 2008-08-19 in Hays County by Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
BibliographyBibref 298 - Field Guide to Texas Trees (1999) Simpson, B.J.
Bibref 481 - How to Grow Native Plants of Texas and the Southwest: Revised and Updated Edition (2001) Nokes, J.
Bibref 355 - Landscaping with Native Plants of Texas and the Southwest (1991) Miller, G. O.
Bibref 318 - Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region by Region (2002) Wasowski, S. & A. Wasowski
Bibref 248 - Texas Wildflowers: A Field Guide (1984) Loughmiller, C. & L. Loughmiller
Bibref 291 - Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife (1999) Damude, N. & K.C. Bender
Bibref 297 - Trees of Central Texas (1984) Vines, Robert A.
Bibref 286 - Wildflowers of the Texas Hill Country (1989) Enquist, M.
Search More Titles in Bibliography
Web ReferenceWebref 75 - Southwest Desert Flora (2020) Southwest Desert Flora
Additional resourcesUSDA: Find Parkinsonia aculeata in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Parkinsonia aculeata in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Parkinsonia aculeata
MetadataRecord Modified: 2022-10-07
Research By: TWC Staff, GDG