California native trees add an eco-friendly visual element to your yard and provide a safe habitat for native species. Find out which one will suit your space.
Native gardening is a popular and eco-friendly alternative to conventional gardening. It requires less fertilizer and watering and provides a home and food source to important species. Traditional landscaping often requires more than just flowers and grasses, which is where trees can play a role.
There are plenty of California native trees that would make a fabulous addition to your natural lawn, in addition to various California native plants and native grasses. We’ve put together a list of popular options you can incorporate into your yard or garden.
Small California Native Trees
Not everyone has space for a large tree. Each of these California native trees is under 20 feet and is perfect for smaller gardens and yards.
- Water birch (Betula occidentalis): This shrubby tree features dark red bark and is also known as red birch, black birch or mountain birch. It grows in clusters with a shared root system and is ideal for reforestation efforts and erosion control.
- Mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus betuloides): Though not a true mahogany, this California native tree is a member of the rose family. The tree typically has between one and four main trunks. It requires little water and plenty of sunshine.
- Hollyleaf cherry (Prunus ilicifolia): Native to coastal California, this shrub or tree is also a member of the rose family and features dense foliage. The leaves slightly resemble holly, which is where the name comes from. It produces cherries, which makes it an excellent shrub for attracting pollinators like birds and bees.
- Pacific wax myrtle (Morella californica): An ideal addition to coastal gardens, this California native tree thrives on plenty of moisture. Growing no higher than 33 feet, this small tree features a small yellow flower which also helps attract beneficial pollinators.
Flowering California Native Trees
Are you looking to add a striking pop of color to your garden? These flowering California native trees will add a bold backdrop.
- California buckeye (Aesculus californica): This specific species is endemic to California and is the only buckeye native to the state. This tree is relatively drought-tolerant and features long, white, plume-like flowers. Use caution — the fruits are toxic.
- Western redbud (Cercis occidentalis): To add a gorgeous splash of pink to your landscaping, consider adding this California native tree. The pink and magenta flowers grow all over the plant and add a stunning visual. It’s easy to grow in northern California in places that don’t drop below 15 degrees. In the south, choose spots near streams, springs, or damp areas.
- Desert willow (Chilopsis linearis): Another California native tree that will add a splash of pink to your garden, the desert willow loves full sun. They require such little care that they are ideal for beginner gardeners. You can prune it to be whichever shape you’d like.
- Island ceanothus (Ceanothus arboreus): Sometimes referred to as the California lilac, this small tree or shrub produces gorgeous purple blooms. You’ll find them throughout southern California, particularly on the Channel Islands — also home to one of the best West Coast national parks!
Evergreen California Native Trees
There is a wide variety of native trees you can choose to help liven up your space. Consider adding some evergreen trees to maintain visual consistency throughout the year.
- Coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia): The native range of the coast live oak stretches from just north of Sacramento down to Baja. You’ll want plenty of space for this tree, as they have a mature height of up to 80 feet. It’s one of the only native California oak trees that thrive in coastal environments.
- Torrey pine (Pinus torreyana): The rarest pine species in the entire country, the Torrey pine is an endangered tree. It can only be found on two of the Channel Islands and along the coast of San Diego County. These beautiful trees grow up to 56 feet in the wild. Their cones contain edible pine nuts.
- Catalina cherry (Prunus ilicifolia ssp. lyonii): This tree’s fruit is edible, but it isn’t particularly tasty is and probably best left for the birds. The Catalina cherry tree boasts beautiful white blooms in the spring before turning to fruit in late summer. It can grow up to 40 feet tall and is commonly found on the Channel Islands and the Santa Barbara coast.
- Incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens): If you have a large area of your garden that needs filling, try the Incense cedar. Once mature, its height ranges from 40-60 meters, with a trunk diameter of up to three meters. Give it deep and infrequent watering when you first plant it to help develop its drought tolerance.
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