Chinese pistache tree root system

Chinese Pistache Facts: Tips On Growing A Chinese Pistache Tree

If you are looking for a tree suitable for a xeriscape landscape, one with ornamental attributes which also fulfills a valuable niche for wildlife, look no further than the Chinese pistache tree. If this piques your interest, read on for additional Chinese pistache facts and care of Chinese pistache.

Chinese Pistache Facts

The Chinese pistache tree is, as mentioned, a notable ornamental tree, especially during the fall season when the normally dark green foliage changes to a dramatic profusion of orange and red leaves. An excellent shade tree with a broad canopy, Chinese pistache will attain heights of between 30-60 feet. A deciduous tree, the one foot long pinnate leaves consist of between 10-16 leaflets. These leaves are mildly aromatic when bruised.

Pistacia chinensis, as the name suggests, is related to the pistachio; however, it does not produce nuts. Instead, if a male Chinese pistache tree is present, the female trees bloom in April with inconspicuous green blossoms that develop into clumps of brilliant red berries in the fall, changing to a blue-purple hue in the winter.

While the berries are inedible for human consumption, the birds go nuts for them. Keep in mind that the bright colored berries will drop and may stain or create a slippery walkway. If this is a concern, consider planting P. chinensis ‘Keith Davey,’ a fruitless male clone.

Native to China, Taiwan and the Philippines, Chinese pistache grows at a moderate pace (13-24 inches per year) and is relatively long lived. It is also tolerant of many soil types as well as being drought tolerant with roots that grow deep into the soil. The bark of growing Chinese pistache is grayish-brown and, if peeled from the tree, reveals a shocking salmon pink interior.

So what are some landscape uses for Chinese pistache trees?

Chinese Pistache Uses

Chinese pistache is not a fussy tree. It can be grown in USDA zones 6-9 in a variety of soils as long as the soil is well draining. It is a sturdy tree with deep roots that make it an ideal specimen for near patios and sidewalks. It is heat and drought tolerant and winter hardy to 20 degrees F. (-6 C.) as well as relatively pest and fire resistant.

Use Chinese pistache anywhere you would like to add a shade addition to the landscape with the bonus of an opulent fall appearance. This member of the Anacardiaceae family also makes a lovely container specimen for the patio or garden.

Care of Chinese Pistache

The Chinese pistache is a sun lover and should be situated in an area of at least 6 hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight per day. As mentioned, Chinese pistache isn’t picky about the soil it’s grown in as long as it drains well. Choose a site of not only plenty of sun, but with fertile soil deep enough to accommodate the long taproots and at least 15 feet away from nearby structures to account for their growing canopies.

Dig a hole as deep as and 3-5 times as wide as the root ball of the tree. Center the tree in the hole, spreading the roots out evenly. Refill the hole; don’t amend it, as it is not necessary. Tamp the dirt down lightly around the base of the tree to remove any air pockets. Water the tree in well and spread a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch around the base, away from the trunk to discourage fungal disease, rodents and insects.

Although Chinese pistache trees are fairly disease and pest resistant, they are susceptible to verticillium wilt. Avoid planting them in any area that has had previous contamination.

Once the tree has been planted, continue to water twice a week for the next month while the tree acclimates. Thereafter, check the soil once a week and water only when the top one inch is dry.

Feed trees under 5 years old in the spring and fall with a nitrogen based fertilizer. Use one that is supplemented with superphosphate only if they are growing less than 2-3 feet per year to give them a boost.

Young Chinese pistache should be pruned in January or February to facilitate their signature umbrella shape. When trees are six feet tall, prune the tops of the trees. As branches emerge, choose one as the trunk, another as a branch and prune out the remainder. When the tree has grown another three feet, prune them to 2 feet above the previous cut to encourage branching. Repeat this process until the trees are symmetrical with an open canopy.

Keep leaf debris and fallen berries raked up from around the trees to prevent unwanted seedlings.

Chinese Pistache


Common name: Chinese Pistache(1)

Scientific name: Pistacia chinensis(1)

Family: Anacardiaceae, a group of flowering plants commonly referred to as the cashew family.(1)


Habit: The Chinese Pistache has a moderate growth rate of about 13-24 inches per year and its branches form a vase-shape as they emerge from the trunk.(1,4) Although it can reach heights over 60 feet, the Chinese Pistache typically grows to be 25-35 feet tall with a spread of 25-35 feet. At maturity, the Chinese Pistache has a large, symmetrical canopy (Figure 1) that is ideal for creating shade over pathways, parking lots, and a variety of other settings in arid and semiarid areas.(1)

Figure 1: Illustration of the symmetric canopy of the Chinese Pistache at maturity. Image source: Gilman, E.F.; Watson, D.G.; Pistacia chinensis Chinese Pistache. US Forest Service, Department of Agriculture. Fact Sheet ST-482, October 1994.

Young Chinese Pistache trees are often asymmetric and require early structural pruning to achieve the desired, symmetrical canopy.(2,4) The Chinese Pistache typically grows slightly taller than it does wide, giving rise to a moderately dense, oval crown. Older, lower branches tend to sag towards the ground over time, which eventually creates an evenly spread crown. The branches and trunk of the Chinese Pistache are resistant to breakage since they are composed of an extremely robust wood.(1)

Leaves: The Chinese Pistache has an alternate arrangement of pinnately compound deciduous leaves, which means that multiple leaflets are attached to several places along the rachis.(1) Although these numbers vary, the typical Chinese Pistache leaf is one foot long and consists of 10-16 leaflets that range from two to four inches in length.(1,4) A drawing of a Chinese Pistache leaf is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Attachment of leaflets to the rachis of a pinnately compound leaf. Image source: Gilman, E.F.; Watson, D.G.; Pistacia chinensis Chinese Pistache. US Forest Service, Department of Agriculture. Fact Sheet ST-482, October 1994.

Chinese Pistache trees appear to have an opposite leaf arrangement, however, the opposite leaflets form compound leaves, which alternate sides and attach individually at nodes along the stem. A view of the true, alternate leaf arrangement is provided in the close-up image of a Chinese Pistache twig in Figure 3.

Chinese Pistache leaves are slightly aromatic and can release a subtle fragrance when punctured or bruised.(1,2) These leaves display an attractive, dark green color throughout summer. As fall approaches, the color of the foliage transitions towards a vibrant mixture of orange-red leaves, which gives rise to its brilliant autumnal aesthetics.(1) A side by side comparison of the summer and fall leaf colors is shown in Figure 4.

Twigs & Bark: Chinese Pistache twigs are brown and moderately thick. The outer bark, which is grayish-brown in color, can crack and chip away over time to expose the bright, orange-red colored inner bark as seen in Figure 5.(1)

Flowers & Fruits: Chinese Pistache flowers are red in color and are showy during the spring season.(1) These flowering plants are dioecious, meaning that the male and female reproductive organs exist in separate trees. Female Chinese Pistache trees can produce clusters of ornamental fruits whenever a male tree is close by. These fruits are classified as drupes, since they consist of a fleshy outer skin that surrounds a single pistachio-type nut. As seen in Figure 6, these berries are bright pink-red in color during the fall, but they turn a purple-red color as winter approaches.(1,2)

It is important to note that Chinese Pistache berries are inedible for humans, however, they provide a source of food for various species of birds and other small terrestrial organisms.(1,2,4)

Where it’s from

Native range: The Chinese Pistache is native to central and western China and Taiwan; and it can also be found throughout a variety of Mediterranean climates where mild winters are followed by hot and dry summer conditions.(2,3) Its native habitat consists of mountain and hill forests with rocky soils, which typically exist anywhere from 330 – 11,800 ft (100-3600 m) above sea level.(5)

Ecological notes: The Chinese Pistache is not only heat and drought resistant, but it is also winter hardy, as it can withstand temperatures as low as 20°F (-6°C).(2) It is tolerant to a wide variety of soil types, such as clay, loam, sand, acidic, and alkaline soils. Although this tree can survive in many different environments, it should receive a minimum of six hours of unfiltered sunlight per day.(4) Its roots are non-invasive and grow deep, making this the ideal tree for lining sidewalks, patios, and structures. This tree is resistant to fire and pests; however, it is susceptible to Verticillium wilt, which is why it should be planted in well-drained soils.(1,2) The map provided in Figure 7 shows the potential planting range for the Chinese Pistache across the United States.

Figure 7: The shaded area indicates the potential planting range for the Chinese Pistache across the United States. Image source: Gilman, E.F.; Watson, D.G.; Pistacia chinensis Chinese Pistache. US Forest Service, Department of Agriculture. Fact Sheet ST-482, October 1994

What we use it for

Because of its aesthetic and structural properties, the Chinese Pistache is primarily used as a decorative shade tree for residential streets and other urbanized areas, such as parking lot islands and sidewalk cutouts.(1) Its hardiness and tolerance to different soils allows this attractive, ornamental tree to survive in many different environments.

Biographer: Chad Bowyer ’17, BIOL 336: Botany, Spring 2017

© 2017 HalieWestPhotography

Dos and don’ts when pruning pistachio trees

A good pistachio pruning program manages the canopy over the life of the orchard in a way that maximizes the possible yield of clean, open split-nuts from an efficient harvest, says Bob Beede, University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor, emeritus, for Kings County.

To better manage alternate bearing, he prefers to think of pruning in terms of two years, rather than just the next year. “Pruning harder prior to an on-year improves the yield during an off-year, in my opinion,” Beede says. UC researchers are now testing that hypothesis.

Both growth and fruiting habits of the pistachio tree affect pruning. As a very apical dominant tree, it does not branch readily. Instead, the tree grows mostly from the terminal bud and one or two lateral buds behind it, he notes. Consequently, branching must be forced by removing the end portion of a limb. Such heading cuts are made regularly during the training years to develop the desired branching.

Also due to the pistachio tree’s apically dominant nature, the trunk and limb diameter do not enlarge rapidly. That requires heading the main structural limbs shorter than desired to keep them upright, Beede adds

Flower buds develop on one-year-old wood, typically towards the base of medium to long shoots and next to the terminal vegetative bud on short shoots (spurs). “The lack of lateral branching causes the fruit-bearing wood to become increasingly distant from the central axis of the tree,” Beede says. “Failure to contain the tree canopy to a diameter of about 17 feet results in crop falling onto the ground at harvest due to the limited size of the harvest equipment.”

Eventually, during the on-bearing seasons the weight of the crop forces the main structural limbs to bend downward. Without corrective pruning, the pistachio tree canopy begins to take on the appearance of an umbrella, Beede notes

“This combination of less-upright fruiting limbs and their greater distance from the tree’s center creates major problems for effective harvest,” he says. “The high energy imparted to the trunk by the shaker can no longer be sufficiently transmitted to the fruiting zone for its removal.”

Some growers try to solve this by simply shaking the tree harder. The result, he points out, is more frequent equipment breakage, rapid sling wear (the thick rubber sheets draped around the shaker pads for protection), excessive removal of next year’s fruiting wood (spurs) and, possibly, more tree stress from disruption of roots at the tree’s crown. Harder shaking also flings the crop past the catch frame of the harvester.

This can be prevented by pruning the pistachio tree so as to push the canopy perimeter back, reducing its diameter and directing growth upward, Beede reports. That’s done mainly with thinning cuts, which completely remove a limb at its point of origin.

“To achieve a more compact and upright tree, thinning cuts are made to flat limbs around the outside of the tree and within the canopy where excessive fruitwood exits,” Beede says. “Be careful not to make too many cuts in any given sector of the canopy unless the fruitwood is unusually abundant. In addition to distributing the thinning cuts over the entire tree, avoid removing all of the lateral limbs on a specific structural branch in order to make room for adjacent branches. Rather than creating these so-called snakes, it is better to leave the best structural branch minimally pruned and to remove the competing branch entirely.”

Also, he cautions against opening the center of pistachios trees. “We do not want them to look like peach trees at the completion of pruning,” Beede says. “Because of their growth and fruiting habits, pistachio trees will open up naturally, allow sufficient light into the canopy center for fruitwood production.”

He considers loss of fruitwood in the middle of the tree over time as more a function of apical dominance than insufficient light penetration. The key in pruning is to keep the pistachio canopy compact and upright for productivity and harvestability.

“Don’t prune mature trees to the point that they produce lots of long whips,” he says. “Although this looks good, it most likely means that the tree has been over pruned.

Research shows that the pistachio tree has preformed shoots. They set seven to nine bud positions before the season begins. Unless the tree is excessively vigorous, these preformed shoots grow into spurs and set lots of crop, he explains.

“If mature trees are over-pruned, these preformed shoots are “pushed” into continued growth,” Beede says. “I believe the most productive pistachio tree is one that has hundreds of these short, preformed shoots, rather than lots of long whips.”

Chinese Pistache Tree Stock Photos and Images

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  • Closeup of Chinese pistache tree (Pistacia chinensis) leaves in bright golden orange and red autumn foliage colors against blue sky. Copy space. Fall
  • Scaffolds are put up to remove pests from a Chinese pistache tree near the Leshan Giant Buddha in Leshan city, southwest China’s Sichuan province, 2 M
  • Chinese pistache (Pistacia chinensis),in their fall colors, on the street of Yountville, Napa Valley, California, United States.
  • Chinese pistache tree, Pistacia chinensis, at Stanford Medicine Outpatient Center in Redwood City, California
  • Fry’s Electronics in Sacramento California in the Fall of 2014 with Red Chinese Pistache trees
  • (PUBLISHED 10/2/2004, B-3:7) Newly planted Chinese Pistache trees are one tree type that the City of Coronado are planting to replace messy pepper trees on the island.UT/DON KOHLBAUER
  • Pistacha chinessis Chinese Pistache anacardiaceae tree shrub leaves in autumn colours colors.
  • Old Tree
  • Scaffolds are put up to remove pests from a Chinese pistache tree near the Leshan Giant Buddha in Leshan city, southwest China’s Sichuan province, 2 M
  • Fry’s Electronics in Sacramento California in the Fall of 2014 with Red Chinese Pistache trees
  • Pistacha chinessis Chinese Pistache anacardiaceae tree shrub leaves in autumn colours colors.
  • Old Tree
  • Scaffolds are put up to remove pests from a Chinese pistache tree near the Leshan Giant Buddha in Leshan city, southwest China’s Sichuan province, 2 M
  • Pistacha chinessis Chinese Pistache anacardiaceae tree shrub leaves in autumn colours colors.
  • Old Tree
  • Scaffolds are put up to remove pests from a Chinese pistache tree near the Leshan Giant Buddha in Leshan city, southwest China’s Sichuan province, 2 M
  • Pistacha chinessis Chinese Pistache anacardiaceae tree shrub leaves in autumn colours colors.
  • Old Tree
  • Scaffolds are put up to remove pests from a Chinese pistache tree near the Leshan Giant Buddha in Leshan city, southwest China’s Sichuan province, 2 M

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Search Results for Chinese Pistache Tree Stock Photos and Images

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Chinese Pistache

Pistacia chinensis

  • Clean, dark green umbrella-shaped canopy
  • Beautiful fall color!, luminous orange to red and sometimes yellow
  • Colorful Water-wise tree
  • A wonderful deciduous shade tree
  • An ornamental tree (does not produce nuts)

Chinese Pistache is fast becoming a favorite deciduous shade tree for both landscapers and homeowners alike! This native from China, Taiwan, and the Philippines is also called by its botanical name Pistacia chinensis, and we love how its clean, dark green umbrella-shaped canopy provides plenty of shade! In the summer, this medium-sized tree can block out the sunlight, and when planted in rows, can also become a natural privacy screen so that it can block unwanted views! We also like to use them as a street tree, as a specimen for front yards, and they are also ideal trees for flanking driveways!

Once established, Chinese Pistache is an easy care, drought-resistant tree with little to moderate watering needs. They love the sun, so we like to plant them in a spot that gets plenty of full sun exposure. It offers year-round interest and gets bonus points for its pest resistance too. If you’ve been looking for a shade tree that can reduce temperatures inside your home, we recommend buying as big as you can and allowing our professional landscape crew to plant them around your home properly, it cannot get any easier than that!

We are the growers of Chinese Pistache trees so that we can assure their quality! In fact, we value engineer all of our products so that you get the largest trees and a better selection at the best price! Pistacia chinensis grows well with other trees such as Camphor and California Pepper trees, so visit us today, and we will be glad to help you handpick the perfect trees and other plants that can create a beautiful landscape to increase property value!

Landscape TreesChinese Pistache(Pistacia chinenesis)

Many gardeners and city planners are looking for a small sized tree that carries a big punch as far as fall color is concerned. In the south, we are very lucky to have the Chinese pistache (Pistacia chinensis) as an option for these situations.

It would be difficult to think of a similar, small sized tree, that packs the same fall color wallop as Chinese pistache. Our native sassafras might fit the bill but it is more finicky to soil type and less available in the trade. The fall color with Chinese pistache is always spectacular, but one warning, it is variable. So far, most of what is available in the retail trade is started from seed so the actual fall leaf color varies from yellow to orange to pure red. If you must have a particular color, your best bet is to visit your retail outlet in October when plants are at peak fall color. When the colorful leaflets do fall, the leaf liter is not as troublesome as some other shade trees such as oaks, maples, and sycamores.

One reason many gardeners have gravitated towards Chinese pistache is the fact that once established, it is very drought tolerant. So far, there is no significant disease or insect issue to worry about with this tree. The tree does bear male and female flowers on different trees (called dioecious), but neither flower type is very dramatic. Female trees do bear a colorful cluster of fruits in the fall. The small fruits, which are shades of robin egg blue or red, are born on colorful red stalks. There are reports from some parts of the country where Chinese pistache seeds are sprouting like weeds (invasive). Long term we need the nursery industry to sell male trees with known fall color. In case you were wondering, this tree is related to the source of our delicious pistachio nut, which comes from a different species (P. vera).

One other warning. Chinese pistache is kind of gangly when young. It typically takes five to seven years for the desirable rounded crown to fully develop.

  • Common Name: Chinese Pistache
  • Varieties to look for: few; ‘Keith Davey’
  • Flower Color: NS
  • Blooming period: late April/early May
  • Type: deciduous tree
  • Size: 30’ tall by 30’
  • Exposure: sun
  • Soil: tolerant
  • Watering: moist best
  • When to prune: as needed
  • Suggested use: street tree, parking lot, small lawn tree

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