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What Is a Chinese Pistachio?

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  • Written By: O. Parker
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 04 November 2014
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The Chinese pistachio tree, also known by its species name Pistacia chinensis, originates in Central and Western China. It is a drought-tolerant ornamental tree ideal for urban environments or as a shade tree in the landscape. This moderately fast-growing tree displays visually interesting fall foliage color. The Chinese pistachio is also commonly called the Chinese pistache tree.

The tree grows 25 to 40 feet (about 8 to 12 meters) tall with a canopy spread of 25 to 35 feet (about 8 to 10 meters). The canopy forms an oval or rounded shape. Yearly pruning helps maintain the canopy shape and keeps low-growing limbs from drooping down to the ground.

This landscape tree grows best in a spot that gets full sun, but it tolerates partial shade as well. The Chinese pistachio tree tolerates a wide range of soil conditions, from dry, rocky areas to damp, loamy soil, though the trees prefer loamy soil with good drainage. The tree is moderately drought tolerant but does not fare well in salty soil conditions. It is tolerant of winter temperatures as low as -10 to 0°F (about -23 to -17°C).

The flowers are pale green or red, and bloom in the spring. Once the flowers fade, female trees produce small green fruits that turn red and black as the season progresses. In the fall, Chinese pistachio trees turn vibrant shades of red, orange and yellow before dropping their leaves for winter.

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The bark is silver-grey, providing visual interest in winter when the tree is bare. The berries often last into winter on the bare branches as well. With year-round visual interest, tolerance of a variety of soil conditions and the ability to withstand some drought, the Chinese pistachio tree is well suited for urban planting sites. The wide-spreading canopy also creates shade.

Chinese pistachio trees grow 2 to 3 feet (60 to 90 cm) a year when ideal conditions are met. The trees also transplant well, especially when young. When starting Chinese pistachio trees in the landscape, it is best to purchase trees 6 to 8 feet (about 1.8 to 2.4 meters) tall with a trunk diameter of 1.5 inches (about 3.5 to 4 cm) wide.

Nurseries commonly sell trees either bare root or potted in containers. Bare root trees should be planted in spring at the beginning of the growing season. In hot climates with mild damp winters, bare root trees can be planted in the fall. Container-grow, trees can be plated in spring, summer or early fall.

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