7 Best Native Trees for Phoenix

Emory oak

Using native trees in your Phoenix landscape offers shade and heat relief and won’t rob the precious water supply, as their water requirements are lower compared to nonnative species. Below are native trees of Arizona that are suitable for a variety of landscape sizes and needs and best all, thrive in the local conditions. 

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Emory Oak (Quercus emoryi)

If you’re looking for a large, attractive shade tree that works best in larger landscapes, then the native Emory oak (pictured above) might fit the bill. At maturity, the oak grows up to 70 feet tall and with a dense and rounded canopy that’s 75-feet wide, filling with whorls of leathery and glossy green leaves. Yellow catkins form in springtime followed by red acorn fruits with yellow tops, which are a treat to local wildlife. Even the deep and roughly furrowed black bark adds an attractive appeal. Emory oaks are heat and drought-tolerant once established, grow in sun to part shade and tolerate rocky and sandy soils. 

Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis)

Its name desert willow gives a good idea of the conditions this flamboyant small blooming tree tolerates – hot temperatures and dry conditions. Growing around 15 to 20 feet tall with a 10-foot wide canopy, this showy, fast-growing native tree typically has multiple twisted trunks and is well-branched. The 4.5-inch long, thin leaves are willow-like and deciduous. In summer, long panicles filled with 1.5-inch, fragrant funnel-shaped flowers in colors of dark pink and purple bust onto the scene and remain until autumn. Spent blooms form into 10-inch long and thin seedpods. The blooms attract hummingbirds and butterflies and the seeds feed various mammals. Desert Willow is drought- and heat-tolerant, prefers a sunny site and has low-maintenance requirements.

Arizona Cypress (Cupressus arizonica)

Arizona cypress
Arizona cypress and its showy cones, which stay attached for years. Credit: Jacinta Iluch Valero, CC by SA 2.0.

Holding the honor of being the only cypress native to the southwestern U.S., Arizona cypress trees fulfill a variety of needs in the landscape. With its lacy, silvery foliage, this medium-sized tree is sure to be an eye-catching standout in your Phoenix landscape. Additionally, it thrives in intense heat, drought and full sun without skipping a beat. The evergreen grows around 60 feet tall and 30 feet wide at maturity with a straight habit and a dense conical crown. Its reddish-brown bark adds to the tree’s attractiveness. Additionally, the 1-inch cones mature in autumn and stay attached to the tree for several years. Although it tolerates drought, when given regular water applications the tree grows around 3 feet yearly. 

Sweet Acacia (Vachellia farnesiana)

Sweet acacia trees are suitable choices for smaller Phoenix landscapes desiring a fast-growing, smaller blooming tree. This tree thrives in hot and dry conditions, as well as full sun. The semi-evergreen native fills with medium-green lacy foliage, with grayish or rich brown stems lined in thorns. In late winter, clusters of fragrant bright yellow puff-like flowers form and continue blooming off and on throughout the year. After blooming, 3-inch pods appear that attract birds and wildlife. Sweet acacia forms into an open vase-like canopy and grows around 20 feet wide and tall. It makes a showy accent plant but due to the thorns, plant away from areas where children play.

Desert Ironwood (Olneya tesota)

Desert ironwood
At maturity, desert ironwood’s bark can furrow. Credit: Matt Lavion, CC by SA 2.0.

Desert ironwood earns its common name from its hard, dark brown wood and is a suitable choice for Phoenix landscapes looking for a drought-tolerant evergreen that gives the added bonus of flowers. The native has an open and spreading canopy covered in pinnately compound grayish leaves covered in small hairs. Branches have a thorny nature. Mature trees grow 15 to 30 feet tall and wide, making it a good selection for smaller landscapes. In summer, panicles fill with showy purple-rose flowers followed by bean-like seeds that can be roasted and eaten. They’re said to taste like peanuts. This is a hardy tree thriving in sunny and dry conditions and tolerates growing in poorer sandy and rocky soils. 

Arizona Walnut (Juglans major)

The native Arizona walnut works as a larger shade tree during the warmer months and offers the added bonus of producing edible nuts. The tree has a deciduous habit, producing yellowish-green leaves that are around a foot long. Mature trees grow around 48 feet tall with a 4-foot trunk. In springtime, inconspicuous green flowers form followed by the 1.5-inch nuts that ripen in fall and winter. The nuts are a favorite food for humans as well as the local squirrels. Arizona walnut trees grow best in a sunny to partially sunny site, planted in well-drained soils. The tree has a moderate tolerance to drought conditions.

Gregg Ash (Fraxinus greggii)

Gregg Ash
Gregg ash. Credit: Homer Edward Price, CC 2.0.

For a showy little tree that stands up well to heat and drought, consider the Gregg ash. It might be the perfect selection to add to your Phoenix landscape. The nearly evergreen native tree features sense, dark green, leathery 1-inch leaves. In springtime, inconspicuous green flowers bloom. Growing around 19 feet tall at maturity, Gregg ash is suitable for smaller landscapes. It fits wildlife gardens well, attracting birds and butterflies. The ash has a high tolerance to dry conditions and heat. It also thrives in a variety of soils, including rocky, sandy, caliche and loams. 

Going Native

If you don’t desire spending hours pampering a tree to have it thrive, then going with native varieties are your best choice in low-maintenance Phoenix trees that will stand up to what the area offers. Whether you’re looking for a blast of color with blooms, ones that tolerate drought and heat, large trees offering shade or those better suited for smaller landscapes, a native tree will meet your needs and add an attractive appeal to your Phoenix landscape. 

Joyce Starr

Joyce Starr

Joyce Starr has been writing on horticultural and landscaping topics for over 15 years. In addition, for the past 20 years she’s owned and operated a landscaping and design business. She shares her experience and passion for all things green through her writing.