By Robin Rivet.
Does your surname fall at the end of the alphabet? Were you often called last at school? It seems that even with plants, tree names beginning with X, Y, and Z get used less in landscape designs since they end up at the bottom of horticultural lists. Xylosma, Yulania, and Ziziphus are neglected genera, yet each has exceptional traits that make them worth seeking out, especially now since October is prime tree-planting time.
Coincidentally, these all are native to China, but have been propagated long enough in the US that they have not been targeted by recent tariffs. And although they aren't Mediterranean in origin, they also adapt quite well to our diverse San Diego microclimates. Despite their challenging names, you will find a hardy evergreen known for its foliage; a spectacular, deciduous, white-flowering specimen; and a drought-tolerant, ornamental, and edible shade tree.
Shiny xylosma is an underestimated, foliage-focused tree, well-suited as a multi-trunked screen, single-leader canopy specimen, patio tree, or even a clipped hedge. I have occasionally seen xylosma succeed in large containers—much better than Ficus benjamina, which they resemble. True to its common name, the leaves are noticeably shiny and evergreen. For residents who crave greenery without headaches, it is a fairly neat species too, its flowers inconspicuous and berries small. At full maturity, it maxes out under fifteen feet, while its dense foliage is wildlife friendly. As a bonus, it offers good fire resistance.
Yulania denudata (aka Magnolia denudata)
Lilytree is a deciduous, magnolia species that showcases a legendary bloom in early spring. It prefers moderate watering, but also tolerates some shade. So, like its evergreen cousin, Magnolia grandiflora, it is best suited to an eastern or northern exposure. Put this one near a window where that fragrant inflorescence will take your breath away, plus you can watch the birds flock to its ripe, red summer fruit. If you have a low spot with good drainage, this is the specimen for which you want to keep rainwater in situ on your property.
Chinese date, or jujube, is one of the most attractive, all-purpose trees that will handle most anything San Diego County can muster, as it accepts heat or cold extremes, salinity, coastal conditions, high or low soil pH, and drought. Similar to shiny xylosma, the leaves are glossy, but its foliage is deciduous, and it acquires a natural espalier or weeping form. The drupes (or fruit), are why you plant this tree. Small but plentiful, fall-ripening nuggets are revered in Asia, where they are often dried like dates. Eaten fresh, the fruit is crunchy and sweet—much like a nutty-flavored apple. My favorite cultivar is ‘Sherwood’, but ‘Li’, ‘Lang’, and ‘Sugar Cane’ are also available locally. Beware: most jujubes also have thorns, but they’re worth “the bite”.
*Images courtesy of SelecTree (Xylosma congesta), Margoz (Yulania spp. flower), and Kenpei (Yulania denudata tree).
Member Robin Rivet is an ISA Certified Arborist, TRAQ tree risk assessor, and City of La Mesa Environmental/Sustainability Commissioner. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.