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Trees: Landscaping for Desert Wildlife

Trees provide nest sites and insect prey for birds, and shade and shelter for many kinds of wildlife. Their twigs, flowers and seeds can be important food sources.

Arizona Ash (Fraxinus velutina) Dense, dark green foliage turns yellow in fall. Good shade tree, moderate water requirements. Up to 40 feet tall. Sheds leaves in winter, no thorns. Provides nest sites and insects for many birds, spring through fall.

Blue Palo Verde (Cercidium floridum)
Blue Paloverde (Cercidium floridum)

Blue Paloverde (Cercidium floridum) Arizona’s state tree. Bright green or blue-green bark. Seasonal tiny leaves. Spectacular display of yellow flowers in late March or April. Up to 20 feet tall and 25 feet wide. Numerous thorny twigs provide light to moderate shade.

Foothill Paloverde (Cercidium microphyllum) Yellow-green bark and abundant light yellow flowers in April or May. Up to 15 feet tall and 20 feet wide.

Both Paloverdes are great trees for birds. They provide nest sites and insect prey for birds, such as verdins, cactus wrens, hummingbirds, finches, mockingbirds, thrashers and phainopeplas. Seeds are an important food source for quail, doves, javelina, ground squirrels and many other desert rodents in late spring and summer. Twigs are browsed by rabbits, deer and bighorn sheep.

Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis)
Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis)

Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis) Narrow green leaves provide light shade. Lavender to pink orchid-like flowers, April through September. Up to 25 feet tall. Sheds leaves in winter, no thorns. Hummingbirds and verdins sip nectar from flowers in late spring and summer; several birds and rodents eat the seeds in late summer and fall.

Velvet Mesquite (Prosopis juliflora, var. velutina), Honey Mesquite (P. juliflora, var. glandulosa) Medium green leaves and dark brown bark; provides moderate shade when in leaf. Blooms in late
spring or early summer;

yellow flower clusters. Typically 25 feet tall, equally wide. Sheds leaves in winter, usually has some thorns. Excellent wildlife tree, providing nest sites for doves and many other birds. Insects on foliage, bark and flowers attract a wide variety of birds. Seeds and sweet fleshy pods eaten by doves, quail, foxes, coyotes, skunks, javelina, deer, jackrabbits, ground squirrels and other desert rodents from mid-summer to fall. Leaves and twigs browsed by rabbits and deer.

Ironwood (Olneya tesota) Gray-green leaves, gray bark, lavender flowers in May and June. Up to 30 feet tall, moderate shade. Evergreen, short thorns, slow-growing. Verdins, cactus wrens, doves, quail and desert rodents find nest sites, insects and summer seeds here.

Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia) Tall, many-branched, tree-like yucca with large clusters of greenish-white flowers in spring. Up to 30 feet tall. Evergreen, spine-tipped leaves. Nest sites for at least 25 species of birds.

Ironwood (Olneya tesota)
Ironwood (Olneya tesota)

Mexican Elderberry (Sambucus mexicana) Lush green foliage provides deep shade, fall through spring. Partially sheds leaves in summer. Large, fragrant, creamy-white flower clusters most abundant from April through June. Up to 30 feet tall. Moderate water requirements, no thorns. Clusters of black berries provide food from June through October for at least a dozen bird species. Nest sites for vireos, mockingbirds and others.



Landscaping Information
- Landscaping Home
- The Wildlife-friendly Garden
- Trees
- Tall Shrubs
- Small Shrubs
- Cacti and Succulents
- Flowers and Grasses
- Plant List for Planning
- Reading List
Related Information
- Living with Urban Wildlife
External Resources [More]
- Desert Botanical Garden
- Arizona Native Plant Society’s Invasive non-native landscape plants information
- Arizona Municipal Water Users Association information about conserving water while landscaping
- Tucson Botanical Gardens
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