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Olneya tesota
Olneya tesota

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Zones 8, 9, 11-14, 18-23
Full Sun
Regular WaterMinimal Water
Moderate, Minimal

Olneya tesota

Desert Ironwood
Fabaceae (Leguminosae)
Evergreen, Trees

Thorny native of the Southwest’s Sonoran Desert; also found in warm-winter areas of California. Grows slowly to 15–30 ft. tall, with equal spread; the common name “ironwood” refers to its extremely hard, heavy heartwood. May be single- or multitrunked; prune to maintain the desired form. Branches are erect in youth, later spreading. Gray-green leaves, each with two spines at the base, are divided into many 3/4-in. leaflets. In late spring, clusters of pinkish lavender, 1/2-in., sweet pea–shaped flowers put on a good show. These are followed by dark brown, fuzzy, 2-in.-long pods. Tree drops leaves heavily around bloom time, but new foliage emerges quickly.

In the wild, this plant grows near washes, where some deep water is usually available. In the garden, it is extremely drought tolerant but will grow faster with occasional summer water. Drops its leaves in hard frosts and cannot endure prolonged freezes.

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