Types of Flowering Trees in California (With Pictures) – Identification Guide

Flowering Trees in California identification

Flowering trees in California make a stunning aesthetic addition to any southwestern garden. Many native trees thrive in the warm climates of California. Flowering tropical deciduous and evergreen trees enhance garden landscapes with colorful blooms, lush foliage, and sweet scents all year round. Additionally, tall trees with flowers make excellent shade sources in the Golden State.

Whether you live along the coast in San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, Malibu, or San Diego, varieties of flowering trees will thrive in your front or backyard. Or suppose you live inland in Sacramento or at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada or San Gabriel mountains. In that case, you can choose from a wide variety of trees with spectacular fragrant, colorful blooms.

This article is an identification guide to the different types of flowering trees in California. Descriptions and pictures of trees that provide vibrant color to landscapes throughout the Golden State will help you choose the best species for your garden landscape.

What Are Flowering Trees?

Flowering trees are plants with a trunk, crown of leafy foliage, and beautiful flowers that bloom in the spring, summer, or fall. Flowering trees in California have stunning blossoms in purple, red, yellow, white, and pink shades. In addition, planting flowering trees in your yard attracts pollinators and wildlife and fills landscapes with floral scents.

Planting flowering trees in a southwestern garden also has an additional benefit—shade. Leafy trees with colorful blooms help to keep gardens cool during hot, dry summers along the Pacific Coast. Also, they provide some protection from coastal winds or strong breezes that come from mountain ranges to the east.

Growing Zones For Flowering Trees in California

Before selecting the best trees to plant in your southwestern garden, it’s important to know about growing zones in California. The climate in California is like the Mediterranean, with warm, dry summers and wet winters.

The growing zones in California are divided into northern and southern zones. The northern regions of California can range from USDA zones 5 to 8. Typically, colder California zones are inland east of Sacramento and Redding.

The southern regions of California are typically zones 8 to 11. These include cities like Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, and Palm Springs, as well as deserts like the Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave Desert.

However, it’s good to note that most of the Pacific Coastline from San Diego in the south to San Francisco in the north falls in the USDA 8 to 11 range.

How to Choose Flowering Trees in California

When selecting a flowering tree for your California landscape, the most important considerations are the cold hardiness zone, sun exposure, soil type, and mature tree size. Flowering trees typically require planting in fertile soil that allows for good drainage. Additionally, check salty air tolerance—vital if you live near the Pacific Coast.

When choosing a flowering tree for a California garden landscape, what else is there to consider? First, decide if you want a deciduous or evergreen tree. Even in warm climates, many deciduous trees shed leaves in the fall or dry seasons. Therefore, you may have to do an annual cleanup when the leaves drop.

Flowering Trees in California (with Pictures) – Identification

California is known for its diverse and beautiful landscapes, which include many varieties of flowering trees. From the vibrant purple blossoms of the jacaranda tree, California lilac, and desert willow trees to the fragrant white flowers of the evergreen pear tree, many types of flowering trees thrive throughout the Golden State.

Blue Jacaranda (Jacaranda mimosifolia)

Blue Jacaranda (Jacaranda mimosifolia)

Jacaranda tree has beautiful purple flowers and can be grown in the southernmost parts of California

The blue jacaranda is a purple-flowering tree that fills California landscapes with dramatic displays of lilac, lavender-blue, and purple flowers. Also called the fern tree, this deciduous tree has fragrant trumpet-shaped flowers in conical clusters. Its fern-like, deep green foliage and spreading canopy are ideal for shade on hot summer days.

Ideal for California’s dry climates, the blue jacaranda tree thrives in USDA zones 10 and 11. It’s a moderately fast-growing tree with an open, spreading crown forming a large umbrella-like canopy.

With its purple flowers, the stunning jacaranda tree grows 25 to 50 ft. (7.5 – 15 m) tall and 15 to 30 ft. (4.5 – 9 m) wide. It is ideal as a lawn or shade tree in Southern California, where it can flower throughout the year.

Blue jacaranda is also a flowering tree native to Florida.

California flowering tree color: Large, showy flower clusters in shades of lilac, purple, and pale blue.

California flowering tree identification: The jacaranda tree has a wide, spreading, rounded crown with purple flowers.

Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia)

Crape Myrtle shrubs vs trees

Crape myrtles are small flowering trees that grow best in full sun and are suitable for compact spaces

The crape myrtle is a popular flowering small tree in California, with vibrant and colorful pink, red, white, and purple blooms. This deciduous shrub-like tree is known for its showy flower clusters and deep green foliage that turns bronze in the fall. Crape myrtle flowers have a long blooming time, and the tree is small enough to grow in compact gardens.

Crape myrtle trees and shrubs grow 8 to 15 ft. (2.4 – 4.5 m) tall and 6 to 10 ft. (1.8 – 3 m) wide. They are known for their rounded canopy with dense foliage and clusters of ruffled pink or purple flowers. Grow in full sun in USDA zones 7 to 9.

Crape myrtle is also on the list of native Texas flowering trees.

California flowering tree color: Crape myrtle flowers are pink, red, white, or purple.

California flowering tree identification: The Crape myrtle tree is a multi-stemmed tree with peeling light-brown bark, oval leaves, and clusters of papery flowers.

Texas Mountain Laurel (Sophora secundiflora)

Texas Mountain Laurel (Sophora secundiflora)

The Texas mountain laurel is a purple flowering tree that is suitable for full sun or partial shade in California Gardens

The Texas mountain laurel is a beautiful flowering shrub that can be trained as a beautiful ornamental tree in California. This evergreen tree has fragrant purple flowers that grow in dangling clusters. In addition, the heat-loving tree has fuzzy seed pods that dangle from the tree. Texas mountain laurel tolerates heat, poor soil, and arid conditions.

Suitable for planting in USDA zones 7 through 10, Texas mountain laurel grows 15 to 25 ft. (4.5 – 7.5 m) tall and up to 10 ft. (3 m) wide. It’s a small, slow-growing flowering tree, useful as a specimen or patio tree in xeriscape landscapes.

California flowering tree color: The Texas mountain laurel has clusters of fragrant purple flowers that bloom in the spring.

California flowering tree identification: The Texas mountain laurel has an upright growth habit with glossy green foliage, fragrant purple blossoms, and gray fuzzy seed pods.

Evergreen Pear (Pyrus kawakamii)

Evergreen Pear (Pyrus kawakamii)

Evergreen pear is a white flowering ornamental tree common in southern California

The evergreen pear tree is a popular ornamental flowering tree for Southern California landscapes. Identifying features of the tree are its glossy green foliage and spectacular, intensely fragrant white flowers, followed by greenish-brown inedible berry-like fruits. This small decorative fast-growing evergreen tree grows 15 to 30 ft. (4.5 – 9 m).

Also called the Callery pear, the ornamental evergreen pear tree is suitable for planting in USDA zones 8 through 10. It can tolerate heat, drought, and windy conditions. With its broad, rounded habit, the ornamental tree is common in cities like Santa Barbara, San Diego, San Francisco, and Sacramento.

California flowering tree color: The evergreen pear tree produces white flowers with a pungent, sometimes overpowering fragrance.

California flowering tree identification: The Callery pear tree has an upright growth habit, furrowed gray bark, with glossy green foliage, white spring flowers, and small round, inedible brown fruits.

California Buckeye (Aesculus californica)

California Buckeye (Aesculus californica)

The outstanding feature of California buckeyes is their spectacular white flower spikes

The California buckeye is a small flowering tree native to California with masses of sweetly-scented clusters of creamy-white flowers. The fragrant floral displays are on show in late spring and early summer and contrast nicely with attractive green foliage. After flowering, spiky pear-shaped seed pods have one or two brown seeds appear.

California Buckeye trees grow 15 to 30 ft. (4.5 – 9 m) tall and wide and are suitable for planting in USDA zones 7 and 8. The small ornamental trees thrive in full sun or partial shade. The trees are also drought-tolerant and can tolerate poor soils. However, they shed their leaves in California’s hot summers.

California flowering tree color: The California buckeye produces white to pale pink flowers that bloom in the springtime.

California flowering tree identification: The California buckeye has a flattened canopy, palmately compound leaves, and clusters of fragrant white or pale pink flowers.

Western Redbud (Cercis occidentalis)

Western Redbud (Cercis occidentalis)

The pink flowering western redbud tree is native to California and is small enough for landscaping compact gardens

The western redbud is a native California flowering tree with masses of bright pink pea-like flowers in the spring. Other identifying features of the ornamental tree are heart-shaped leaves, purple-brown seed pods, and twisted or contorted branches. Additionally, it has foliage that turns rusty yellow in the fall.

Suitable for planting in USDA zones 6 to 9, the drought-tolerant western redbud is a great choice for xeriscape landscapes or as an ornamental specimen tree in compact gardens. It grows 10 to 15 ft. (3 – 4.5 m) tall and wide.

California flowering tree color: The western redbud produces clusters of bright pink flowers on bare branches in the spring.

California flowering tree identification: Identifying features of the native Californian western redbud are a vase-shaped habit, zigzag branches, smooth gray bark, and yellowish bronze fall foliage. Its outstanding feature is the showy pink floral displays in spring.

Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis)

Chilopsis linearis 'Timeless Beauty'

Desert willow is a small pink flowering tree native to California. In this picture: Chilopsis linearis ‘Timeless Beauty’

The desert willow is native to California and the southwest US. It is a stunning flowering tree with pinkish trumpet-shaped flowers. This desert tree’s identifying features are its showy clusters of tubular flowers, narrow, willow-like leaves, and spreading growth habit. In addition, its shaggy bark and twisting branches create visual interest in winter.

The native desert willow tree thrives in USDA zones 7 to 11 in full sun and well-drained soils. Its drought and heat tolerance make it suitable as an ornamental tree in backyards, patios, and container gardens in southwestern landscapes.

California flowering tree color: The desert willow produces fragrant flowers in shades of pale or deep pink or pale purple.

California flowering tree identification: The characteristics of desert willow are its twisted branches, glossy green linear leaves, trumpet-shaped pink flowers, and long, dangling seed pods.

Mexican Palo Verde (Parkinsonia aculeata)

Mexican Palo Verde (Parkinsonia aculeata)

Mexican palo verde is a yellow flowering drought tolerant tree native to California

Also called the Jerusalem thorn, the Mexican palo verde is a native California flowering tree that produces bright yellow flowers. The golden yellow flowers bloom en masse in warm weather and after heavy rainfall. These yellow blossoms are followed by 3” to 5” (7 – 12 cm) long seed pods.

The Mexican palo verde tree gets its name from its unusual green bark. The decorative trees grow 15 to 20 ft. (4.5 – 6 m) tall in USDA zones 8 to 11. It is a drought-tolerant native tree that thrives in full sun

California flowering tree color: The Mexican palo verde produces bright yellow flowers with five petals each, blooming in warm months and after rainfall.

California flowering tree identification: Identifying features of the Mexican palo verde include its spreading canopy, feathery “see-through” sparse foliage, and sprays of showy yellow flowers.

Blue Palo Verde (Parkinsonia florida)

Parkinsonia florida tree

Blue palo verde is native California tree with masses of yellow flowers

Native to California, the blue palo verde has spectacular yellow flowers growing on green branches. Dry conditions in California’s southern regions mean the small, pinnately compound leaves only grow for short periods. The papery golden yellow flowers measure 2” to 4” (5 – 10 cm) and give way to long finger-like seed pods.

Blue palo verde has an upright, spreading growth habit and grows up to 20 to 25 ft. (6 – 7.5 m) tall in USDA zones 8 to 11. The ornamental tree is a great choice for compact gardens as a specimen tree.

California flowering tree color: The blue palo verde tree has bright, golden-yellow flowers with hints of orange in the throat.

California flowering tree identification: Identifying features of the blue palo verde are blue-green bark, small oval leaves, and masses of brightly colored yellow flowers.

Western Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana var. demissa)

Western Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana var. demissa)

Western chokecherry young tree (left image) and flower clusters (right)

The western chokecherry is a native flowering tree to the southwest known for its attractive conical clusters of six-petaled white flowers. The small shrub-like tree thrives throughout the Golden State. It is identified by its lanceolate green leaves, creamy-white flowers, and edible dark red to black fruits.

As an attractive small suckering tree with white flowers, western chokecherry thrives in USDA zones 5 to 10. It grows up to 20 ft. (6 m) tall and wide. It’s a great choice for gardens, patios, or container gardens due to its showy white flowers and edible fruit.

California flowering tree color: Clusters of white flowers with orange and yellow centers adorn the western chokecherry tree.

California flowering tree identification: The small western chokecherry tree or thicket-forming shrub has oval, lance-shaped leaves, white flower clusters, and black drupes.

Blue Elderberry (Sambucus mexicana)

Blue Elderberry (Sambucus mexicana)

Blue elderberry is a decorative tree with creamy white to pale yellow flower clusters that is native to California

The blue elderberry is an easy-to-grow small tree or deciduous shrub with clusters of creamy-white to pale yellow star-shaped flowers. This attractive berry-producing tree has flat-topped flower clusters that give way to abundant bunches of purple berries in the fall. The small, deciduous tree grows 20 to 30 ft. (6 – 10 m) tall and wide.

This native California flowering tree thrives in USDA zones 5 to 9. It has an upright spreading canopy forming a loose vase shape. This drought-tolerant tree is a great choice for gardens with poor drainage. Although it thrives in full sun, it can tolerate shade and poor soils.

California flowering tree color: The blue elderberry flowers are large umbels of pale yellow to creamy-white flowers.

California flowering tree identification: Identifying features of the blue elderberry include its spreading canopy, lance-shaped glossy green leaves, conical clusters of pale yellowish flowers, and edible dark blue berries.

Mimosa Tree (Albizia julibrissin)

Mimosa Tree (Albizia julibrissin)

The mimosa tree has beautiful pink fuzzy flowers and is suitable for coastal California gardens

The mimosa tree is attractive with a vase-shaped habit, pink, fuzzy power puff flowerheads, and fern-like foliage. Other names for the mimosa tree are Persian silk tree and pink silk tree.

The outstanding ornamental feature of this exotic tree is its beautiful, pinkish flowers with clusters of fluffy stamens. The mimosa tree leaves fold at night or when touched.

The fast-growing pink silk tree grows up to 20 to 40 ft. (6 – 12 m) tall and wide. Its bipinnate green leaves measure 20” (50 cm) long, and the flat bean-like seed pods are 7” (17 cm) long. The silk tree thrives in USDA zones 6 to 9 and prefers full sun. It’s ideal for planting in coastal gardens.

California flowering tree color: The silk tree flowers are pom-pom-like blooms with pink silky thread clusters that point upward.

California flowering tree identification: Identifying features of the silk tree include its sensitive fern-like leaves, fragrant pink flowers that look like fuzzy pompoms, and long flattened seed pods containing oval-shaped brown seeds.

Golden Rain Tree (Koelreuteria paniculata)

Golden Rain Tree (Koelreuteria paniculata)

The golden rain tree is a yellow flowering tree that gives ornamental value and shade to California landscapes

The golden rain tree is an attractive ornamental tree with showy clusters of yellow flowers in the summer. Identifying features of the golden rain tree are its long flowering spikes of bright yellow blossoms, bright green foliage, and dangling clusters of papery, triangular seed capsules. In addition, the foliage turns rusty brown in the fall.

This small to medium deciduous golden rain tree grows 30 to 40 ft. (9 – 12 m) tall and wide, making it an ideal choice for gardens with limited space. Its stunning floral displays, attractive foliage, and decorative fruit give it a lot of appeal in a landscape. Suitable for USDA zones 6 to 9.

California flowering tree color: Bright yellow flowers cover the golden rain tree through summer.

California flowering tree identification: The golden rain tree has a rounded canopy, pinnate feathery leaves, bright yellow flowers, and chartreuse lantern-like seed capsules in the fall.

Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans)

Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans)

Yellow bells is a small tree with yellow trumpet-shaped flowers that is suitable for dry arid landscapes in California

The flowering yellow bells tree is one of the most floriferous trees for a California landscape. This semi-evergreen small landscaping tree has abundant clusters of bright yellow trumpet-shaped flowers blooming on arching branches. The fragrant golden yellow blossoms contrast nicely with the serrated leaves before developing into long 8” (20 cm) seed pods.

Yellow bells is a semi-evergreen tree that performs best in USDA zones 8 to 11. This native species grows 10 to 25 ft. (3 – 7.5 m) tall and has long, drooping branches, creating an elegant crown 20 ft. (6 m) wide.

California flowering tree color: The yellow bells tree has bright yellow trumpet-shaped flowers that bloom from late spring through summer.

California flowering tree identification: The yellow bells tree is identified by small bright green leaves, yellow funnel-shaped flowers, and dangling brown seed pods.

Sweet Acacia (Acacia farnesiana)

Sweet Acacia (Acacia farnesiana)

Sweet acacia is a drought tolerant tree native to southern California with yellow fuzzy round flowers

The sweet acacia is a fast-growing semi-evergreen tree native to Southern California. The thorny tree is known for its small bipinnate leaves, bright yellow, fragrant puff-like globular flowers, and cylindrical seed pods. The low-maintenance, drought-tolerant, heat-loving ornamental tree has a vase-shaped habit and zigzagging stems.

Ideal for small garden landscapes on the west coast, the sweet acacia tree grows 15 to 20 ft. (4.5 – 6 m) tall and wide.

The sweet acacia tree is suitable for planting in USDA zones 9 to 11 in full sun and dry, well-drained soil. It’s also tolerant of salt spray and windy conditions, making it ideal for coastal gardens.

California flowering tree color: The sweet acacia has cascades of eye-catching fragrant yellow flowers that bloom from late winter through spring and sporadically throughout summer.

California flowering tree identification: Identifying features of the sweet acacia include its small bright green leaves, masses of yellow ball-like flowers, and plump seed pods.

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