Though the nut-bearing Pistacia vera is the best-known pistachio, the two ornamental species described here (P. chinensis and P. texana) are far more useful in most of the South. Leaves are divided into leaflets; flowers are insignificant. Trees may be either male or female; if a male is nearby, females bear clusters of tiny fruit in fall. Young trees tend to be irregular in form and benefit from early training and pruning.
P. chinensis. CHINESE PISTACHE. Deciduous tree. US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Native to China. Fast becoming a favorite lawn, shade, and street tree in the South due to its quick growth, ease of care, adaptability, and outstanding and dependable fall color. Develops an oval to rounded shape, 3035 ft. tall and wide. Foot-long leaves consist of 10 to 12 leaflets, 24 in. long, that change from lustrous dark green to brilliant scarlet, orange, and yellow in fall. Female tree bears small fruit that ripens from red to robin's-egg blue in October.
Plant in full sun for best growth and fall color. Tolerates almost any well-drained soil. Quite drought tolerant and pest-resistant. Also tolerates pollution, making it a good choice for urban settings. Its filtered shade allows grass to grow beneath it.
P. texana. TEXAS PISTACHIO. Large, semievergreen to deciduous shrub or small multitrunked tree. Zones LS, CS, TS; USDA 8-11. Native to Texas. Grows 2030 ft. tall, rarely to 40 ft.; eventually a bit wider than tall. Makes a feathery screen or, if cut back annually when young to promote dense habit, a fine-textured hedge. Female plants bear attractive red berries. Leaves have 7 to 21 oval, pointed leaflets; they have a reddish cast when new, then mature to glossy dark green. Foliage persists late into winter (plant is semievergreen where temperatures stay above 15F). Does well with moderate water but grows faster with regular water. Thrives in regular garden soil but is well adapted to a range of conditions, including limestone and caliche, provided drainage is good. Partial shade or full sun.
P. vera. PISTACHIO, PISTACHIO NUT. Deciduous tree. Zone LS; USDA 8. From Iran. Broad, bushy tree to 30 ft. tall and at least as wide. Gray-green leaves have three to five roundish, 2- to 4-in.-long leaflets. Reddish, wrinkled fruit in heavy clusters. Needs low humidity; chilly winters; and long, hot, dry summers to perform well. This limits pistachio production in the South to parts of West Texas. To get nuts, include a male tree in your planting; 'Peters' is the most widely planted male selection. 'Kerman' is the principal fruiting (female) type.
When planting, avoid rough handling; budded tops are easily broken away from rootstock. Pistachios are inclined to spread and droop; stake them and train branches to good framework of four or five limbs beginning at 4 ft. above ground. Established trees need little watering. Full sun.