What Are Some of the Best Drought-Tolerant Trees for California?

Prolonged droughts are commonplace in Southern California, so it is important to select trees that can survive with relatively little water for your next tree installation project. Fortunately for residents of the sunniest part of the Sunshine State, there are a number of native and exotic selections that fit this bill.

The next time you are planning to add new trees to your property, start by considering the following six species:

1. California Sycamore

Big and beautiful natives of the state, California sycamores (Platanus racemosa) are surprisingly drought tolerant, given their preference for growing in riparian areas. Reaching up to 100 feet in height, California sycamores – like most of their relatives – possess very attractive, splotchy bark that includes white, grey and brown tones. Although these trees are deciduous and shed their leaves each fall, they make excellent shade trees during the spring and summer.

2. Purple-Leaf Acacia

The purple-leaf acacia (Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea’) is an attractive tree with smooth bark and green to purple evergreen foliage. Although fast-growing, purple-leaf acacias have relatively weak wood, so it is best planted away from homes and areas of high foot traffic. A 20- to 30-foot-tall tree, the purple-leaf acacia is relatively short-lived, and rarely reaches 50 years of age.

3. California Buckeye

A California native, the buckeye (Aesculus californica) is a drought-tolerant species, but without supplemental irrigation, it will usually shed its leaves in the late summer. Rarely exceeding 25 feet in height, the California buckeye is typically used as an accent tree, but it provides great shade while in leaf and can be used to keep air conditioning units cooler (which will help reduce your home-cooling costs) in the summer.

4. Flame Tree

The flame tree (Brachychiton acerifolius) is named for its gorgeous orange or red flowers, which grace the tree in the late spring or summer. Reaching about 60 feet in height, these trees are not suitable for use under utility lines, but their modest spread – generally less than 35 feet – makes it a great choice for narrow planting locations. The flame tree is tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions and sun exposure levels, making it an acceptable choice for most properties.

5. Western Redbud

The western redbud (Cercis occidentalis) is a small species that bears pretty purple flowers in the early spring.  Because of their small size (few specimens exceed 20 feet in height), they don’t work well as shade trees, but they are an excellent accent or ornamental trees that also provide significant wildlife value. They can also work well for screening projects in some cases.


If you need help selecting the best drought-tolerant trees for your property, give your friends at Evergreen Arborist Consultants a call. Not only will one of our experienced arborists help you determine the perfect trees for your space, he or she will provide you with tips for helping to prepare your tree for the inevitable droughts that will occur over the next several decades.