Many of us have memories of school lunches and the little cup of fruit cocktail that sometimes came with it.  Little bits of assorted fruit, served in a light syrup with a cherry for color.

What if I told you that there is a fruit tree that can produce up to 5 different kinds of fruit.  Would you think I was crazy?  Well, there is such a tree and it is called a “Cocktail Citrus Tree”.

fruit cocktail

At first glance, a cocktail tree can look like any other citrus tree you may encounter.

But, if you look closely, you may find the following fruit, all on the same tree.

fruit cocktail

 Grapefruit…

fruit cocktail

Oranges…

Lemons

…and Lemons.

Warning – if you don’t want to read the scientific explanation, just skip down to the next picture :^)

Citrus trees, like most fruit trees consist of two parts.  The bottom part is called the ‘rootstock’, which in the case of citrus, is a hardy citrus plant that produces a healthy root system, but does not necessarily produce great tasting fruit.  Then a bud from a tree that produces delicious citrus fruit, but may have a weaker root system, is grafted onto the rootstock.  Over time, both of these parts will grow together into one tree.

A cocktail tree is created using this method, but instead of grafting only one type of fruit onto the root stock, up to 5 different fruits are grafted.  Most often, you will find cocktail trees with 3 types of fruit in the nursery.

fruit cocktail

A few months ago, my mother, (Pastor Farmer), asked me to look at one of their citrus trees at Double S Farms.  Some of the fruit on their grapefruit tree (above) looked smaller and was clustered more thickly on the branches.

It turns out that this was a cocktail tree and they had both lemons and grapefruit on the same tree.

If you have a cocktail tree, it is important to manage it correctly with pruning.  For example, grapefruit are more vigorous growers then oranges, so you need to prune the grapefruit portion of the tree to keep it from taking over the other types of citrus.

**There are other types of cocktail trees that have peach, plum, apricot and cherry grafted onto the same tree.

A cocktail tree is a great solution for those who have a small gardening area, but would like to have a nice variety of fruit.  You can have it all in one tree.

And, you can also use the fruit to create your own homemade fruit cocktail.

Iconic tree

  Iconic tree, Blue Palo Verde (Parkinsonia florida)

When people think of the Sonoran desert, hillsides studded with saguaro cactus and cholla often come to mind.   But interspersed between the cactus, you will find the iconic palo verde trees with their beautiful green trunks and branches.

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The word “Palo Verde” means “green stick” in Spanish, referring to their green trunk, which is a survival mechanism in response to drought.  

Palo verde trees are “drought deciduous,” which means that they will drop their leaves in response to a drought situation.  Their green trunks and branches can carry on photosynthesis, even in the absence of leaves. 

'Desert Museum' Palo Verde

 ‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verde (Parkinsonia hybrid ‘Desert Museum’)

Palo verde trees act as a “nurse plant” to young saguaro cacti by protecting them from the cold in the winter and from the intense sun in the summer.  Beautiful, yellow flowers are the product in the spring.    

Desert Museum' Flower

 Desert Museum’ Flower

There are three species of palo verde that are native to the desert Southwest; blue palo verde (Parkinsonia florida), formerly (Cercidium floridum), foothill palo verde (Parkinsonia microphylla), formerly (Cercidium microphyllum) and ‘desert museum’ palo verde (Parkinsonia x ‘Desert Museum’)

Another species of palo verde that is prevalent in the landscape are called palo brea (Parkinsonia praecox), formerly (Cercidium praecox).  They have a dusty green trunk and branches that twist and turn.  Their cold hardiness range is around 15 to 20 degrees F.

Iconic tree

 Iconic tree, Palo Brea

PALO VERDE USES: Palo verde trees serve as beautiful specimen trees where their green trunks, branch structure, and flowers serve as an attractive focal point in the landscape.  They are drought tolerant, once established and provide lovely filtered shade year-round.  

When deciding where to place your tree, be sure to take into account that they need a lot of room to grow, mature sizes are listed below.  

Palo Verdes don’t do well when planted in grass and will decline over time.  Locate away from swimming pools due to flower litter in the spring.

Because of their more massive thorns and branching tendency to point downwards, palo brea trees aren’t recommended in areas close to foot traffic.  

Mature Sizes:

Blue Palo Verde – 30 ft x 30 ft

‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verde – 30 ft high x 40 ft wide

Palo Brea – 30 ft x 25 ft

Foothills Palo Verde – 20 ft x 20 ft

As with many desert trees, Palo Verde trees have thorns, except for the ‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verde.  

Iconic tree

 Foothills Palo Verde

PALO VERDE MAINTENANCE:  Prune to elevate the canopy and maintain good structure.  Avoid hedging and “topping” trees as this stimulates excess, weak growth.

MY FAVORITE: As a landscape manager, horticulturist and arborist, I have grown and maintained all of the palo verde species mentioned, and I truly enjoy them all.  However, at home, I have 4 ‘Desert Museum’ trees.  In comparison to the other species, their trunks are a deeper green; they produce larger flowers, are thornless and grow very quickly in the desert.  Also, they require little, if any, tree staking when planted. 

Blooming Flowers

The blooming of my desert willow tree (Chilopsis linearis), is beginning to slow down.  The leaves will fall in December.  However, there were a few lovely pink flowers left.

Blooming Flowers

Also, the recent monsoon storms have caused my ‘Rio Bravo’ sage, (Leucophyllum langmaniae), to burst out in flower.

Blooming Flowers

Beautiful, magenta brachts surrounding the tiny, cream-colored flowers on my single bougainvillea shrub.

Blooming Flowers

I also love the multi-colored blooms of my lantana ‘Patriot Desert Sunset.’  They will soon stop blooming for the winter.

 red bird-of-paradise

The vibrant colors of my red bird-of-paradise, (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) add vibrant color to my garden and nectar for hummingbirds.  

In another month, many of these flowers will no longer be flowering, but until then, I’ll enjoy the view.

Ficus nitida

Ficus Nitida simply the wrong plant, and usually in the wrong place.

I think this photo probably speaks for itself…..

But, I will add to it by saying that it is vital to realize that the little, spindly tree that you plant WILL GROW. Be sure to check the mature size of any tree, (or any plant for that matter), before you plant so you can be sure that there is ample room for growth.

By the way, the tree above is a Ficus nitida, which is a beautiful, dark green tree. But, it does grow enormous, as does its roots, making it unsuitable from most residential landscapes.