Palo Verde (Parkinsonia florida)

Parkinsonia florida, the blue palo verde (syn. Cercidium floridum), is a species of palo verde native to the Sonoran Deserts in the Southwestern United States and Northwestern Mexico.  Its name means “green pole or stick” in Spanish, referring to the green trunk and branches, that perform photosynthesis.

Distribution

This plant is primarily found in the Sonoran Colorado Desert of southeastern California, and the Sonoran Deserts of southern Arizona and of northwestern Sonora state (Mexico). It is found predominantly in desert washes or bajadas, a result of its need for water, although occasionally it can be found in creosote desert scrub habitat, accessing seeps in desert hills up to 3,600 feet (1,100 m).  Also found in the far eastern Mojave Desert of California in the ‘upper’ Lower Colorado River Valley, and occasionally in the Mojave’s mountains.

Description

Parkinsonia florida grows to heights of 10–12 metres (33–39 ft). It is a rapidly growing large shrub or small tree, and rarely survives to 100 years. Compared to the closely related Parkinsonia microphylla (foothill paloverde), it appears more decumbent in overall form, is taller, and matures more quickly.

The plant’s trunk, branches, and leaves are blue-green in color, hence the common name. The plant is drought-deciduous, shedding its foliage for most of the year, leafing out after rainfall. Photosynthesis is performed by the blue-green branches and twigs, regardless of absent leaves.

The flowers are bright yellow, and pea-like, which cover the tree in late spring. They attract pollinators such as bees, beetles, and flies. They are followed by seed pods which are slightly larger and flatter and have harder shells than the foothill paloverde. These are a food source for small rodents and birds.

Pods from a Palo Verde.

Pods from a Palo Verde.

Uses

Native American

The plant’s beans were used as a food source, and wood for creating ladles, by the indigenous Quechan, Mojave, and Pima people. The beans are edible just after the blooms have died, they can be ground and cooked like pinto beans.

Cultivation

Parkinsonia florida is cultivated as an ornamental plant and tree by specialty plant nurseries, for planting as a shrub or multi-trunked small tree in drought tolerant and wildlife gardens of suitable climates.  It offers an unusual green-blue silhouette in gardens, and delicately patterned light shade over patios.

 

Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. Pod photograph from chipmunk_1.

About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.

Leave a Comment