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Cordia

Posted 5/17/2016

Cordia

Cordia

We have so many wonderful choices of landscape plants here in the Mojave. For those who are less interested in flowers than in fall foliage colors, Chinese pistache (‘red push’) trees turn nearly as red as maples do in cooler climates.

Most of us are looking for blossoms, however. Despite myths to the contrary, it is possible to have flowers, or at least colors, through most of the year, without breaking our water budget. From the virtually thornless spring-blooming Lady Banks roses, to the reliable summer blooms of oleanders and lantanas, there are beautiful selections. Several rose varieties will bloom through the spring and even into the summer, until the temperatures rise to triple digits.

Many of our gardens and yards have at least one Texas Ranger (Leucophyllum spp.). Those that produce lavender flowers are the most common, but some cultivars have white blossoms, and others have blooms that are a deep purple. Each of these deserves more attention than they receive. There is also bush morning glory, which is a flowering extravaganza when it is at its best.

One group of hot weather plants that are not used nearly enough is the genus Cordia. These showy shrubs are an almost perfect addition to desert landscapes. There are about 300 different species of this beauty, some of which are native to the western hemisphere.

Two drought tolerant species that do well in Southern Nevada have deep green foliage and lovely white flowers. The leaves of either are interesting, soft and fuzzy when young, turning tougher and grey green when they are older. The one with larger leaves is Cordia boissieri, a native of southern Texas and central Mexico. Although it is not an olive, nor even a close relation, it is called Texas (or Mexican) olive, for the fruit that appears after the white funnel shaped flowers have been pollinated. These fruits are toxic to people when fresh. Birds, on the other hand, find them delicious, so it is probably best to leave the fruits to them.

Originating in Northwestern Mexico and central Baja California, the other species that thrives in our desert climate is Cordia parvifolia, little leaf cordia. Its fruits are inconspicuous, but the flowers are just as showy as its bigger-leaved cousin. It grows in a very airy form; looking almost as if it only has a small number of leaves. This is incorrect; the leaves are simply quite little.

Both are wonderful evergreen shrubs that grow well here, as long as they meet three conditions. First, like so many desert plants, they will not survive excess water. Do not surround one with high water use plants; you will kill it. Next, they thrive with a lot of sun, so place it in a very bright spot. Finally, they need protection from the cold. If temperatures drop into the mid 20’s, be prepared to see some branch dieback. This does not mean the plant is dead. As long as the root system is well established, it will return to life in the spring.

Email or call Angela O’Callaghan, Social Horticulture Specialist for Cooperative Extension, at 702-257-5581.

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