Tree Following, May 2016: Waiting for Blooms

Thanking Lucy at Loose and Leafy for hosting the fun Tree Following meme, we’re checking in today on our chosen trees. My Retama, Parkinsonia aculeata, leafed-out fully this past month, providing a respite for this Red-winged Blackbird during his visit to my garden.

No longer just a display of green bones that are trunk and limbs,

…the tiny, flat leaflets formed along the paired stalks and sport a spring green that is most welcome in my garden.

The fine foliage is lacy against the sky.

The tree fills in a space between the backdrop of neighbors’ trees and my own Shumard Oak,  Quercus shumardii.  Those blasted electric lines traverse the foliage.

I guess I shouldn’t complain about the lines though, should I?  After all, I couldn’t very well write about Retama and hit “send”  without them.

The Retama is lovely in any light–I’m so glad I have one in my garden and that I chose it to follow this year.


In the past week, look what’s happened!


Just a few for now and they are clustered together in the topmost foliage, but soon the flowers will appear all over the tree and pollinators of all stripes and wings will visit.   It’s been windy here recently, so good photos are tricky.

As this week is National Wildflower Week in the U.S. I think it’s appropriate to laud the Retama’s beauty and appropriateness in its native range.  Retama is a native small tree/shrub to Texas and a bunch of other places throughout North and South America.   It is an arid climate plant, thriving in dry, hot conditions and a valuable plant in many ways–medicinally, and scientifically, as well as being important for erosion control and soil reclamation.

But the Retama, P. aculeata,  has also proven invasive and a problem plant for many areas where it has been introduced.  Australia has banned it entirely because it’s become such a noxious weed. Retama escapes from controlled cultivation, probably by birds which spread the seeds, and becomes weedy in natural ranges.

I think this is a good reminder that where a plant is native, there are controls and conditions to keep the plant “in check.”  The Retama in my garden belongs here, in my garden.   It is a native plant to the region in which I live and garden, and a fine addition for its beauty, its water-wise characteristics, and  its ability to thrive in the hot summers. Additionally, it’s also a great wildlife plant.   But in places where it is introduced and has invaded, problems arise.  Retama spreads and grows rapidly, forming thickets and native plants cannot complete, thus the Retama is responsible for declining flora diversity. It causes problems with livestock (because of its thorns) and spreads profusely when there is plenty of soil moisture.

Because we love of plants, gardeners should be cognizant of how our plant choices impact our home region.  When we can do, we should choose native plants and wildflowers to help beautify our world and assist wildlife, but we should also encourage and lobby nursery businesses to supply native plants so that we have choices.  When we totally fall in love with a non-native plant and must have it–and that’s happened to all of us–we should learn about the plant and take care that it isn’t invasive and won’t harm our local environment.

Thanking Lucy again for Tree Following–pop over and learn about trees from all over the world.  Enjoy!

Tree Following, April 2015: Leafy Greens

It’s time once again to follow up on my tree, the Retama, Parkinsonia aculeata, and to participate with Lucy and her Tree Following meme at Loose and Leafy.  This past  month started chilly and slowly with little tree action by the Retama.

As always, a lovely specimen in the garden with its elegant form and green bark,

….the Retama stood in this past month as a silent sentinel, awaiting  its particular breath of spring.

Continuing its role as a favorite bird perch,

…this Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos, surveyed his realm and sung for me on a grey, cold day, early in

In the last couple of weeks though,

…a transformative change for the Retama.  It’s leafy greens all around!

Welcome to spring, a new growing season for Retama, and a hearty huzzah for newby foliage!

Tree Following, March 2015: What’s In A Name

Thanking Lucy at Loose and Leafy for hosting Tree Following, there’s nothing new to report about the physical state of my lovely Retama, Parkinsonia aculeata.   February proved chilly, though not in any record-breaking way like so much of the United States, but cold enough that the Retama still sleeps.

Cold birds, like this White-winged Dove, continue perching on sleepy

No swelling or emerging buds exist.

Last year’s seed pods, a few anyhow, dangle, undropped and unsprouted.

The trunk and many branches remain green, as is the way of the Retama, continuing the chlorophyll  function that the tree is known for, especially during drought periods. Those nasty thorns, …which prick and poke this gardener from time to time, are healthy and prominent. One of the common names for P. aculeata is Jerusalem Thorn, though not because of these sharp fiends, …but rather because the English name is an adulteration of the Italian/Spanish word girasol, which means sunflower, or turning toward the sun. ‘Sunflower’ or girasol is an appropriate name as the the Retama requires full sun exposure for its growing and blooming best, and the spring, summer, autumn flowers are brilliant yellow, though not of the sunflower or aster (Asteraceae) variety.  The legume fruits in the earlier photo are evidence that P. aculeata is a member of the Fabaceae or Pea, family of plants.

I’ve always called this tree Retama, but my mother referred to it using another of its common monikers, Palo Verde, which is also spelled Paloverde, from the Spanish, ‘green wood’.  In reading about this great tree, I’ve discovered  many other names for it. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center lists a total of six names for P. aculeata:  Retama, Paloverde, Mexican Palo Verde, Jerusalem Thorn , Horsebean, Lluvia de Oro.

In this link from the World Agroforestry Centre, I found loads information about Retama, including a long list of names from around the world for this indigenous North American tree.  Similar to most plants, not everyone calls P. aculeata by the same common name.  That’s one of the interesting side stories with horticulture:  as plants are globally distributed, the vernacular of plant names adopts a linguistically provincial flavor.  Often, names are descriptive (‘green wood’/Paloverde) and many common plant names are quite charming and poetic.   This excerpt from the section about names from the Agroforestry Centre’s article lists an array of common names in numerous languages used for P. aculeata.

Amharic (filfile,Ye eyerusalem eshoh); Arabic (sessaban,sesaban);
Bengali (balati kikar); Bislama (shewina); Creole (madame naiz,madame
yass); Dutch (boonchi strena); English (wonder tree,Mexican palo
verde,blue palo verde,takataka tree,Barbados flower fence,Jerusalem
thorn,horsebean,hardbean); French (epine de Jerusalem,arrête-
bouef,genet epineux); German (Stacheliger Ginsterßaum); Gujarati
(bawal,kikar,rombawal); Hindi (adanti,sima tumma,vilayati babul,vilayati
kikar); Indonesian (adjao kase); Italian (Ginestra spinosa); Spanish
(aroma extranjera,capinillio,capinillo,cina-cina,acacia de los
masones,bayahonda blanca,palo de rayo,sulfato,sauce
guajiro,retama,pinos japonés,pino japonés,junco
marino,paloverde,espino,mataburro,lluvia de oro,acacia de agüijote,pauji);
Swahili (mkeketa); Tigrigna (shewit hagai); Trade name (Jerusalem thorn);
Yoruba (hanson sessaban)


Where’s my Retama??  Funnily enough, what I call P. aculeata isn’t mentioned in the English section of the names, but it is listed in the Spanish, because retama is Spanish for ‘broom’.  I used Google translator to check out the meanings of many of these words and I was surprise at how many had ‘broom’ in the translation, though not at all surprised at how many use ‘thorn(y)’ in the meanings.  My favorite name for P. aculeata is the Spanish, Lluvia de oro, which translates as ‘rain of gold’.  If you’ve ever seen a Retama in full, glorious bloom and some, or many, of those blooms have dropped to the ground, lluvia de oro certainly tells that story beautifully.
I fear I’m too cranky and set-in-my-ways to change what I routinely call this plant, so Retama it remains for me.  Maybe I should call it by its scientific name, Parkinsonia aculeata?  That’s a mouthful of words, but from where is that name gleaned?  The Parkinsonia part of the equation honors the British botanist, John Parkinson, who lived from 1567-1650.  While Parkinson was an important gardener and introduced new plants to England in his lifetime, he did not “discover” the genus of trees which bear his name.  The naming of the New World plant genus, Parkinsonia, commemorates Parkinson’s life and horticultural contributions.  The species term, aculeata, derives from the Latin, aculeatus, meaning ‘sting or prickle’.  As one who’s been dinged on the head more than once by those thorns, yes, I agree that it’s aptly named.
I’m not always a conscientious practitioner of proper name usage for plants, but it’s a good idea for gardeners to familiarize themselves with scientific/botanical names.  The example of my followed tree, the Retama, is a good one–at a minimum, there are 50 different common names for this one little tree: Parkinsonia aculeata.
Head over to Loose and Leafy and read about other trees from their admirers and followers.