Seven Gorgeous Edible Desert Trees

Bigtooth maple

Bigtooth maple

Bigtooth maple
Date palm
Desert ironwood
Pinyon pine with immature cones


July 1, 2014

What is a desert?

A desert doesn't have to be flat, or sandy, or even hot -- a desert is defined by its rainfall (or rather, lack thereof).

An area with an annual rainfall of fewer than 25 centimeters (9.75 inches) generally qualifies as a desert.

About a fifth of the Earth's land surface qualifies for desert status, and while growing an edible garden in a desert area can be challenging, there are still plenty of beautiful trees you can put in your edible landscaping.

Here are just a few:

1) Bigtooth Maple (Acer grandidentatum)

If you live in a mountainous desert area, you may already have this growing nearby.

Just like its cousin the sugar maple, the sap from the bigtooth maple can be tapped and boiled in the winter to create maple syrup.

2) Date Palm (Phoenix dactylifera)

Native to the Middle East, the date palm can be found in many desert areas and has been made famous by being deliberately planted all over southern California.

3) Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa, Prosopis velutina)

Mesquite is a group of trees in the legume family which have yellow-orange flowers and edible seeds. The "honey mesquite" is said to have the best tasting seeds, which are used to make a gluten-free flour.

Don't plant near a patio as it can drip sap, and it can be invasive, especially when planted in non-desert areas.

4) Desert Ironwood (Olneya tesota)

A tree in the legume family, the desert ironwood is slow growing, with pink or lavender edible flowers. The seeds are edible raw, sprouted, or roasted, and are said to taste like peanuts.

5) Pinyon Pine (Pinus edulis, Stone Pine)

More commonly found in higher elevations, this is where pine nuts come from. Yellow flowers and bright green needles with green and brown cones that turn brown as they ripen.

6) Nanking cherry (Prunus tomentosa)

Native to the Chinese deserts, this tree is not only very drought resistant but is hardy to USDA zone 2! Its flowers can be white or pink depending on the variety. The fruit is red and edible.

7) Pomegranate (Punica granatum)

The pomegranate is native to Iran and has trumpet shaped red-orange flowers and large red or pink edible fruits. It's really more of a tall shrub (8-10 feet/3 meter) but can be pruned to look like a tree if you'd like to plant things under it.

For all of these trees, it's best if you can find a local distributor, but the next best thing is to buy from an online supplier who is in the same climate, elevation, and USDA zone as yours (or as similar as possible). This way, you'll be able to get trees which will be adapted to conditions similar to yours.

If you live in the desert, what is your favorite edible tree? Is there a really good one that I've missed?

Photo credit links:

Bi-colored Maple Tree
Arbusto Palo de Fierro
Pinus edulis cones

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