All trees on this list are native to the Tucson Basin. They have evolved over millennia to our unique local conditions and therefore are the best adapted to growing here, require minimal maintenance, and have low water requirements. They bring the beauty of the Sonoran Desert back into our daily lives and are the best for attracting native songbirds and butterflies, because natives attract natives.
Be sure to plant your trees in passive water harvesting earthworks so our natural rainfall can be your irrigation system after the trees become established. Click here for our water harvesting page. Also, see the City of Tucson’s Water Harvesting Guidance Manual available for free from the City of Tucson Department of Transportation, Stormwater Section 791-4251. You can also check out an excellent upcoming publication, Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands – How to Welcome the Rain Into Your Life and Landscape by Brad Lancaster (see www.harvestingrainwater.com for info).
Do not mix amendments into your soil, rather backfill your hole with native soil. Then apply compost, aged manure, and or wood chips or straw to the surface of the soil as a soil-building, water-conserving mulch.
VELVET MESQUITE (Prosopis velutina) – Our native mesquite tree. Grows up to 30 feet tall. Drops most of its leaves in winter. Fast growth rate. Fixes nitrogen in soil (makes its own fertilizer).
Wonderful multi-trunked garden tree, all kinds of plants grow very well under its canopy. The best and hardiest of all the mesquites. Tasty and edible seed pods. Medicinal properties. Multi-trunked tree. Some thorns. Deep roots will keep this mesquite from blowing over in strong winds as Chilean mesquites often do.
SCREWBEAN MESQUITE (Prosopis pubescens) – A native tree growing 15-20 feet tall. Drops its leaves in winter. Moderate growth rate. Edible seed pods and medicinal properties. Fixes nitrogen in soil (makes its own fertilizer).
A multi-trunked tree. Some thorns. Not as drought tolerant as velvet mesquite.
DESERT IRONWOOD (Olneya tesota) – A native tree growing up to 26 feet tall. Evergreen. Slow to moderate growth rate without irrigation. Moderate to fast growth rate with irrigation. Edible seeds can be very tasty when toasted – much like roasted peanuts in flavor. Medicinal properties. Fixes nitrogen in soil (makes its own fertilizer).
Multi-trunked tree with white-gray bark and green leaves. Flowers are purple in spring. This wonderful tree is found with some of the most diverse groupings of desert plants, but the healthiest stands are being bulldozed to build track homes. Plant one and help bring them back. Small thorns.
CAT CLAW ACACIA (Acacia greggii) – A native acacia that grows to 20 feet tall. Drops its leaves in winter. Moderate growth rate. Fixes nitrogen in soil (makes its own fertilizer).
Sharp thorns, so keep this well pruned or clear of walkways. Multi-trunked tree. Works very well as a security screen. Medicinal properties.
WHITE THORN ACACIA (Acacia constricta) – A native acacia that grows 10 – 15 feet tall. Drops its leaves in winter. Fast growth. Fixes nitrogen in soil (makes its own fertilizer).
Multi-trunked tree with fragrant, yellow puff ball flowers. Thorns. Reddish bark. Medicinal properties.
CANYON HACKBERRY (Celtis reticulata) – A native tree that grows up to 35 feet tall. Drops its leaves in winter. Moderate growth rate. Edible fruit. Medicinal properties. As it is found in canyons it needs a little more water than the other trees on this list.
Single trunked tree with grey bark and green leaves. Branches can grow quite curvy.
FOOTHILLS PALO VERDE (Cercidium microphyllum) – A native palo verde that grown up to 26 feet tall. Slow to moderate growth rate (faster with irrigation). Flowers are edible and the full-sized green seeds are yummy when cooked.
Green bark. Multi-trunked tree. Flowers are yellow in spring. Some thorns. Medicinal properties.
BLUE PALO VERDE (Cercidium floridum) – A native palo verde that grows up to 30 feet tall. Fast growth rate. Flowers are edible and the full-sized green seeds are yummy when cooked. Medicinal properties.
Blue green bark. Multi-trunked tree. Flowers are yellow in spring. Some thorns.
DESERT WILLOW (Chilopsis linearis) – A native tree growing up to 25 feet tall. Drops its leaves in winter – and is the most dependably winter deciduous native tree. Fast growth rate. Medicinal properties.
Multi-trunked tree with gray bark and long willow-like leaves. Orchid-like flowers. No thorns.
Local Tree-Planting Resources: Tucson, AZ
Desert Survivors Plant Nursery: the best source for truly native velvet mesquite
Desert Survivors Nursery is the only one we currently know of that grows true native velvet mesquite trees—which we find to have the most consistently great-tasting mesquite pods. Desert Survivors is very careful where they collect seed—in rural areas with no imported or hybrid varieties of mesquite trees. Unfortunately many growers collect seed from urban areas rife with imported mesquite such as some South American varieties, which often have very bad-tasting, low-quality mesquite pods. These bad-quality imported mesquites can hybridize with local native mesquites where they grow together. This is why it is important to collect seed from truly native mesquite in areas without non-native mesquites.
Trees for Tucson
Inexpensive or free trees in Tucson and community tree planting help:
This is a fantastic organization that provides free or very-inexpensive low-water-use trees for neighborhoods, community organizations, non-profits, and groups of people. They have a shade-tree program (for trees to shade buildings) and a street-tree program (to shade streets and sidewalks). Any low-water-use native tree can be obtained from them. The tree selection provided on their typical forms is more limited than the Desert Harvesters’ tree list, but you could ask to use the Dunbar/Spring neighborhood tree list/order forms (a list the D/S neighborhood made with Trees for Tucson’s blessing). Neighborhood tree-planting organizers in the Dunbar/Spring neighborhood have changed the Trees for Tucson order forms so they only offer the native trees listed in this web page’s native tree list. We encourage you to do the same. These native trees need the least care once established, the least water once established, and they offer superior wildlife habitat for local songbirds and butterflies. Plus, many of these native trees provide food and medicine while bringing back islands of our beautiful Sonoran Desert ecosystem back to our urban and suburban neighborhoods – reconnecting us with a Sense of Place. Note: We do not know whether Trees for Tucson is getting their mesquite trees from growers who grow only truly native velvet mesquite seed—check with them before ordering. To contact Trees for Tucson, call (520) 791-3109.
To view and/or download the native tree forms click here.
Free service that marks existing utility lines so you don’t hit them! Call 1-800-782-5348. Tell them what you want marked (property, City right-of-way, utility easements, etc.) and they will mark them all for free. As long as you do your digging within 14 days of marking—and you avoid the marks and honor the setbacks—you will not be liable if you hit a utility line. Always call Bluestake before you dig!
See our Resources Page for more local information.