Plant of the Month: Texas Ebony

July 27, 2020

Texas Ebony is native to the lowland regions of the Gulf of Mexico from southern Texas to northeastern Mexico. The highly ornamental, glossy, dark green foliage is its most striking feature. This popular small to medium tree has flexible, zigzagged branches, and fragrant catkin-like spring flowers. The dense canopy is evergreen in lower desert regions.

Texas Ebony, Ebenopsis ebano (formerly classified as Pithecellobium flexicaule), is slow-growing, reaching 25 feet tall and 20 feet wide. This versatile tree is valued for both its specimen quality in patios and gardens, or as a screen or barrier plant. The thorns provide security where needed. When used for patios and gardens, its thorns must be taken into account in its placement. With careful pruning, the canopy can be raised to form a patio tree.

Look for the cultivar Sierra Sparkler (of Havardia pallens) for creamy puffball flowers that burst into bloom multiple times from late spring into mid-summer.

Its fragrant cream-colored flowers appear in spring and are followed by brown, woody pods 4 to 6 inches long that can remain on the tree for up to a year. These pods create some ground litter, but are easily picked up and can be used in dry flower arrangements for unique texture and durability.

This sun-loving tree prefers well-drained soils, deep, infrequent waterings, and is very drought tolerant.

It should be planted only in areas where the winter temperatures do not dip below 15 degrees Fahrenheit, as tip burn and possible die back can occur.

texas-ebony-low-water-plantTwo other interesting closely related species of Texas Ebony that are becoming more widely available are Mexican Ebony (Havardia mexicana) and Tenaza (H. pallens). Note, these were also formerly classified in the Pithecellobium genera.

While similar to Texas Ebony, Mexican Ebony is a larger deciduous tree, growing to 30 feet, with gray-green foliage. Havardia mexicana grows quickly while young, and then at a moderate rate as it matures.

Tenaza is semi-deciduous in winter and provides light shade in summer. The tropical appearance, upright form, and fast growth rate distinguish it from other related species. It reaches a maximum size of 30 feet high by 25 feet wide.

Did you know that up to 70% of water use is outdoors?

That’s why we love desert plants and feature them each month. Even though you don’t want to plant when it’s 115-degrees, desert trees establish quickly in summer months. Just ensure that you are watering properly. You can learn more about these trees and other plants on our Arizona Low-Water-Use Plants page. Visit our page on Choosing and Planting Low Water-Use Plants for tips on plant selection and how to plant properly. Also, be sure to read through all of our featured Plant of the Month blogs!

This blog was originally posted in 2016, it was updated in June 2020. This feature is based on a concept and text originally developed jointly by the Arizona Nursery Association and the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association (AMWUA) with partial funding from the Arizona Department of Water Resources. Learn more about these and other great desert plants at the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association Landscape Plants for the Arizona Desert plant database.