"You have got to be kidding."
A decade ago I was looking at a crooked Pistachia chinensis sapling, while the nursery owner praised its attributes. Although it was a gawky adolescent, he promised it would turn into a beautiful rounded shade tree with orange, red, and crimson fall colors. It was drought and heat tolerant and unbothered by disease or insects. It had extremely hard wood, and the deep roots would help it stand firm during storms.
"Nobody wants it," he said. "They don't know what they are missing." Now he was appealing to the rescuer side of me. The plant was doomed to die, withered in the back with the other rejects if I didn't buy it. How could I let that happen?
So I paid a few dollars for the Chinese pistache tree and brought it home. It looked like a tall weed, and my family was skeptical when I planted it in a place of honor down in the lower front lawn, near the entrance to our property.
For a few years I drove past it with an embarrassed look. I pruned it a little, trying to improve its shape. The tree grew over two feet a year and now, finally, is beginning to fulfill the promise made by the nursery owner.
My tree is a close relative of the pistachio tree that produces the edible nuts many of us love. The Chinese pistache tree produces fruit which is inedible to humans but beloved by birds. Every other spring, female trees produce inconspicuous greenish flowers, followed by reddish purple berries, most of which are infertile. If fertilized by the pollen of a male tree, the berries will become black. Another good thing is that Chinese pistache pollen is non allergic. My tree has never produced berries, so I am thinking it is male, though maybe it is still too young to produce fruit. Male trees are reported to have better mature form, and many of the Chinese pistache trees available in nurseries are male. So I think that is what I have. Eventually I will know for certain.
A member of the sumac family, Chinese pistache trees are adaptable to a variety of soils and will grow in hardiness zones 6-9. They can grow up to forty feet tall and wide, and the oval to rounded crown provides medium to filtered shade. It is a very long lived tree. The average Chinese pistache will live over fifty years, but some specimens have lived for hundreds of years.
The Chinese pistache is on a lot of 'Recommended' lists for good reason, but be aware: in some parts of the country, particularly Texas, it is considered invasive. Fortunately, that is not a problem for me, and I am happy to see my gawky adolescent grow up!