Sunday, November 25, 2012

Is fall finally here?

Fall or autumn as we Brits insist on calling it, doesn't really happen in the Coachella Valley. No season of mists and mellow fruitfulness and almost no vivid autumn tints. Whilst the nights are cooling and temperatures have dropped, it just doesn't feel like autumn and plants likewise don't seem to sense it. Relatively few plants here are deciduous in the 'normal' winter/summer way. If they drop their leaves, it is often out of season and maybe just before the fresh flush of spring growth, so for example, Jacaranda seems to keep its foliage most of the winter and then drops it just before flowering in spring.

Evergreen pear - Prunus kawakamii

Anyway I'm struggling here to give you a sense of how the seasons are changing. One plant that does seem to colour up is the strangely called evergreen pear, Pyrus kawakamii, which isn't evergreen - at least not here. Its not a particularly shapely tree but grows well enough here with typical spring pear blossom, tiny hard inedible fruits and good late fall colour.  There is also a large mulberry tree that I cycle past which produces excellent butter yellow tints before leaf fall. Never having been here in summer, I have no idea of its fruiting capabilities.

mulberry autumn colour

There's not much by the way of berries, although pyracantha does grow easily enough.  When its left alone and not butchered by the hedge-trimmer boys, it does fruit freely although it just doesn't look right alongside bougainvillea and spiky agaves. Despite its red berries, it  looks like a rather dowdy, dusty poor cousin. There is a rather scruffy small tree with pinnate foliage which produces dirty white berries but so far I've been unable to identify - anyone help me here? (Chad are you reading? Update - thanks Chad for the ID - see below - a local native.)

My local mystery tree - identified by Chad as  Sapindus saponaria var drummondii (soap berries or soap nuts)

Probably the highlight for me of the autumn landscape is a small tree that I pass on my early morning running route. Each year it produces huge drooping trusses of vivid copper pink seedpods. The colour and effect against the blue sky is electric. If my identification is right, its Koelreuteria pinnata 'Rose Lantern'.

Koelreuteria paniculata 'Rose Lantern'

Wonderful and a good enough incentive to get up and run! And by the way, the skies are not photo-shopped - yes they really are that blue! I'm a very lucky guy to live here! And by the way Philip wants credit for today's title!


  1. It'll be interesting to find out how that Prunus got its common name, even if it's not evergreen at all. Mind you, common names don't always make sense...

  2. Most of the written information I have discovered lists it as a 'glossy leaved evergreen' so it must just be the conditions in this area that cause it to colour and drop its leaves. Fun but confusing!

  3. Hi Ian.

    I think you have the right variety of Koelreuteria; but ‘Rose Lantern’ is usually given to K. paniculata. I haven’t seen it in the flesh and don’t know if it has made it to Europe yet. I wonder if it comes true form seed?

    Your ‘dirty white berries’ are ‘soap nuts’ or ‘soap berries’. Sapindus saponaria var drummondii [which might now have been ‘elevated’ to Sapindus drummondii] is native to your area.