31 Flowering Trees That Grow Well in California
Living in California provides you with many options when it comes to gardening and landscaping. Picking a flowering tree that will grow well in California isn't nearly as hard as some colder states. But with so many options, which ones do you pick? In this article, we look at some of our favorite flowering trees for the temperate California climate!
As the third-largest state in the United States, California takes up a lot of ground. Because of this, the landscapes of California vary greatly, allowing a vast spectrum of different varietals of plants to grow – including the following California flowering trees.
A flowering tree is a lovely addition to any California exterior space. These trees add a pop of sunshine from their early blossoms, with some flowering seasons lasting for months.
This alphabetical list of California flowering trees will share a few key tips about each variety as well as a description of its special characteristics. If you’re interested in California native plants, be sure to check out CalScape, a great resource from the California Native Plant Society.
- 1 Australian Tea Tree
- 2 Blue Elderberry
- 3 California Ash
- 4 California Flannelbush
- 5 California Lilac
- 6 Catalina Cherry
- 7 Chitalpa
- 8 Chokecherry
- 9 Creek Dogwood
- 10 Desert Ironwood
- 11 Desert Peach
- 12 Desert Range Almond
- 13 Fremont Cottonwood
- 14 Goodding’s Black Willow
- 15 Honey Mesquite
- 16 Marina Strawberry Tree
- 17 Mountain Alder
- 18 New Zealand Christmas Tree
- 19 Oregon Crab Apple
- 20 Paperbark Tea Tree
- 21 Pineapple Guava
- 22 Primrose Tree
- 23 ‘Saratoga’ Sweet Bay
- 24 Screwbean Mesquite
- 25 Smoke Tree
- 26 Sweet Acacia
- 27 Sweet Shade
- 28 Tobacco Brush
- 29 Water Gum
- 30 Western Redbud
- 31 Victorian Box or Mock Orange
- 32 Final Thoughts
Scientific Name: Leptospermum laevigatum
The Australian tea tree delights with white flowers that last through a range of seasons. These trees grow to between 10 and 30 feet in height. Maybe a small dwarf variety is more your speed. The New Zealand tea tree only grows to only about six or eight feet tall. This variety also comes in white, pink, or striking magenta flowers.
You’ll find a few Australian varieties of plants on this list that thrive in the California climate. Many of these trees, like the Australian tea tree, need a coastal environment. These varieties thrive where the weather does not reach the extremes of a desert or inland habitat.
Scientific Name: Sambucus nigra ssp. Caerulea
Yet another dwarf-style California flowering tree, with a maximum height of 30 feet, is the blue elderberry. This resilient tree is drought-tolerant and native to California, making it easy and rewarding to grow. Gardeners must ensure the soil stays moist and enjoys either full or part sun.
This delightful tree’s flowers burst forth as cream or yellow in the spring and last until fall. Then these blooms become purple berries, providing an essential, native food source for California birds.
Scientific Name: Fraxinus dipetala
The California ash is a small tree found at low elevations throughout mountain ranges in California. The white flowers of this tree look like individual lilac blossoms, hanging in clusters from delicate branches.
This hardwood tree can reach a height of 23 feet tall, with sweetly fragranced flowers welcoming the spring. The California ash is a friend to pollinators like butterflies and birds.
This tree loves to be planted on a slope, in either full sun or part shade. Be careful not to overwater this California flowering tree and provide well-draining soil.
Image Credit: David A. Hofmann via Creative Commons (use permitted with attribution)
Scientific Name: Fremontodedron californicum
Another dwarf, or ornamental California flowering tree, is the California flannelbush. This tree stuns with yellow flowers and can quickly grow to 20 feet tall – but only in the right conditions. This plant is fussy about watering, so make sure you want more maintenance for this variety.
The California flannelbush loves the sand and absolutely hates summer watering. This advice is crucial for gardeners to heed. Any watering during the summer months may damage this plant! Instead, this native species needs to access a water source via its deep roots.
This plant makes a stunning focal point in a landscape garden, planted in the hands of a professional. Make sure this California flowering tree is far from walkways and other high-traffic areas to avoid the plant attaching to clothing, hair, or fur from passersby.
Scientific Name: Ceanothus
The California lilac is considered a small tree or large shrub, but some specific varieties can grow to 20 feet tall. It’s really all about the specific cultivar when it comes to California lilac.
This California flowering tree has blue flowers with a light, pleasant fragrance. If you are familiar with the delightful flowers and enchanting scent of a lilac bush, you will enjoy this native California flowering tree.
This plant is endlessly versatile and beneficial in the garden. The California lilac attracts honeybees and is an attractive option as a small tree or even trained into a quick-growing and dense privacy hedge.
This variety is also very pest resistant, one of the many benefits of choosing a native species. The dark green foliage offers a sophisticated complement to other landscape elements year-round.
Scientific Name: Prunus ilicifolia ssp. Lyonii
The Catalina cherry is native to Southern and Central California and grows quickly in either sun or shade and several different kinds of soils. This tree grows to about 40 feet tall.
This California flowering tree offers beautiful white flowers in the late spring, but its fruit is not as pleasant. Let the birds have the fruits, and be sure to clean up quickly if they land on your concrete – it will stain.
Image Credit: Joe Decruyenaere via Creative Commons (use permitted with attribution)
Scientific Name: Chitalpa x tashkentensis
As another smaller California flowering tree, the chitalpa grows to a maximum of 25 feet tall. This variety grows a long taproot, meaning it can beautifully decorate the end of a driveway or sides of a walkway without damaging pavers or concrete.
This variety is known for its gray-white bark and display of white or light pink flowers. This tree flowers extensively for a very satisfying blooming period, all the way through the spring, summer, and fall. Watch for the hummingbirds and butterflies to visit!
Scientific Name: Prunus virginiana
This California flowering tree is actually in the rose family, which translates to beautiful clusters of late spring blooms. This tree reaches about 15 feet tall and offers elegant yellow and white flowers.
As the name implies, this tree produces fruit. However, the fruit is primarily medicinal and contains trace amounts of cyanide, so it’s best to avoid the fruit.
Ancient people used to eat chokecherry, but now it is mostly reserved for birds and small animals. Because of this feature, the chokecherry will attract many wildlife friends to your plant.
Scientific Name: Cornus sericea
This native California flowering tree exists prolifically across much of North America. It thrives in wet soils and wetlands and can grow quickly in the right conditions. As a small tree, the creek dogwood will only reach a maximum height of about 15 feet.
The creek dogwood tree offers small white flowers for its spring blooms, but that is only the start of what the dogwood delivers. Once the fall season arrives, this tree will offer purple or bright red foliage to dazzle your exteriors. In the winter, the dark red bark continues to stand out.
This native species is an excellent addition to any small sitting garden or landscaping border. Many varieties of dogwood are available in many different styles of foliage color, size, and other characteristics.
Scientific Name: Olneya tesota
This tree, a core part of the desert landscape, towers to more than 33 feet. It can get even taller in ideal conditions, offering perennial purple flowers each spring season. When planting a Desert Ironwood, be sure to consider the sun exposure, moisture needs, and soil type needed for planting.
This tree is commonly planted in butterfly gardens to support those pollinators in a dry landscape. The desert ironwood needs full sun and low moisture, but it can tolerate any type of soil.
Scientific Name: Prunus andersonii
Like the chokecherry, the desert peach is also a small tree in the rose family. This tree is also known as the desert almond. The desert peach thrives in eastern California, growing in the scrubland at the base of mountains and in deserts.
This tree produces a spray of five-petaled pink flowers, blooming at the same time as the leaves for a beautiful display. As one of the tiniest trees on this list, the desert peach reaches a maximum height of only seven feet.
This variety is commonly used for bird and bee gardens and is wonderfully deer-resistant. Like the other desert-loving plants on this list, the desert peach likes sandy soil and needs very little moisture to thrive.
Desert Range Almond
Scientific Name: Prunus fasciculata
This native California tree attracts pollinators like bees and is essential to its desert climate. This tree can reach about six feet tall, featuring branches with slight thorns. Look for small white flowers with a sweet fragrance from March to May.
Like with many desert plants, it is essential to consider your landscape when choosing this tree. Consider consulting a professional to determine the best drought-tolerant foliage options for your outdoor spaces.
Scientific Name: Populus fremontii
This almost-foolproof tree is large, growing ten to 20 feet in only a year. These trees can reach a maximum height of 100 feet, so it needs plenty of space to spread out. As such, you probably don’t want to plant the Fremont cottonwood in your standard yard or other small areas.
The flower clusters bloom in March and April, producing telltale cotton tufts that blow throughout the area. If you have ever lived near a cottonwood tree, you will not soon forget it. Be sure you are friends with your neighbors if you decide to grow a Fremont cottonwood.
Make sure this plant enjoys moist soil and average sun. Near a creek or spring is the best option for easy access to natural water. This tree provides year-round interest, especially with its shimmering heart-shaped leaves.
Goodding’s Black Willow
Scientific Name: Salix gooddingii
Like other willow trees, these flowering trees perform an essential role for wildlife in their native habitat. Often found in wetlands, these trees can grow between 15 and 40 feet tall. Look closely for the flowers here, which are green and bloom only in early spring.
This plant needs full sun and also soil that will retain moisture. Consider this plant to accent your pond, bee garden, bird habitat, or butterfly garden. This plant tolerates temperatures as low as 10 degrees, so it is hardy to most locations throughout California.
Image Credit: David Bygott via Creative Commons (use permitted with attribution)
Scientific Name: Prosopis glandulosa
While listed as a terribly invasive species in other parts of the world, the honey mesquite is native to California. This plant requires simple care. It’s content with well-drained soil, full sun, and low moisture levels.
If you are going for a desert wildlife garden, you must include honey mesquite for a medium-height California flowering tree. A native species, this tree is vital to the environment of small woodland creatures like birds and rabbits.
This plant offers a bottlebrush-shaped cylinder of flowers in a white or yellow shade. These later become a nutritious seed pod your wildlife friends will love.
Marina Strawberry Tree
Scientific Name: Arbutus Marina
Unlike many trees on this list, the Marina strawberry tree is considered a medium-sized tree. This variety grows to 50 feet tall and offers a dense crown of evergreen leaves. In addition to its clusters of uniquely shaped light pink flowers, the peeling bark provides visual interest.
As the name suggests, this tree produces edible fruit, but it is gritty and best left for the birds. Choose a sunny or partly sunny spot and water it occasionally during the long stretches of summer. This tree is drought tolerant and thrives in Bay Area neighborhoods.
This flowering tree is a rewarding tree to view from afar. However, it may require more yard work because of prolific falling twigs, fruits, and flowers.
Scientific Name: Alnus incana ssp. Tenuifolia
There are several California native plants on this list as well. Choosing native plants is a great option not only for the greatest chance of success for the plant but also to be eco-friendly.
Native plants know how to survive in their specific climate, making maintenance lower and saving water. Because these plants grow where they belong, they provide the natural habitat choice for birds, small animals, and insects.
The next time you’re at a high altitude in northern, southern, or central California, look around to find the mountain alder. This 20-foot tall tree offers purple flowers in the early spring, thriving in wet soil at elevations from 4,500 to 8,000 feet.
New Zealand Christmas Tree
Scientific Name: Metrosideros excelsus
This maximum seven-foot-tall tree is best known for its large, spiky red flowers. In addition to its unique looks, this variety is also deer-resistant and drought-tolerant. Enjoy the flowers in winter along the Northern California coast. This plant enjoys the fog layer and salty air.
Plant this tree to attract bees and hummingbirds or ornament a rocky hillside or other steep, unforgiving landscape issue. This flowering tree has many advantages!
Oregon Crab Apple
Scientific Name: Malus fusca
Don’t let the name fool you – this tree grows prolifically in California. Found most often in parks and gardens as an ornamental plant, this specific variety is native to the region.
Crabapples are popular trees for their early and prolific blooms in the spring. These beautiful flowers become small, tart apples. While edible, it is best to cook them into jams for pectin, the thickening ingredient used for making jams.
These resilient trees are low-maintenance and will thrive in either full sun or part shade and sandier soils. Make sure you are patient with a crabapple, as they take time to reach their maximum height of about 40 feet.
Paperbark Tea Tree
Scientific Name: Melaleuca quinquenervia
The paperbark tea tree has many interesting qualities, including the flowers arranged on the ends of branches. These petals are arranged in spikes and grow from spring to early fall.
This tree offers year-round interest in a large, fast-growing package. This tree can reach 30 to 50 feet tall. After the flowers, cylinder-shaped fruits appear for the winter season. True to its name, the tree’s bark peels away to reveal the bark underneath.
The paperbark tea tree produces the trendy essential oil, tea tree oil. Tea tree oil offers the natural solution to many skin conditions, including dandruff, acne, ringworm, and hemorrhoids. This oil is now part of many therapeutic shampoos, serums, and lotions.
Scientific Name: Feijoa sellowiana
This dwarf tree has beautiful dark gray-green foliage year-round, accented by white flowers with red centers. These edible flowers have a sweet taste that becomes a guava-like fruit once fall arrives. This tree grows to only about 10 or 15 feet tall.
You can train trees like the pineapple guava to form a hedge shape, offering a quick-growing privacy hedge or beautiful boundary alternative. Many of these trees have sweetly fragranced buds that attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.
Scientific Name: Lagunaria pattersonii
If the name of this tree conjures visions of princesses and fairy tales, you’re not too far off. Like Rapunzel’s hair, this tree quickly grows up to 30 feet tall. The primrose tree’s blooms erupt in a delicately pink star shape. The flowers last through summer and fall.
Make sure the sun shines on your primrose tree, and don’t worry about watering it once it is well established. If you live in a coastal climate, you will have even more success with this tree. Because this tree is native to Australia, it prefers a more temperate climate.
Image Credit: Tatters via Creative Commons (use permitted with attribution)
‘Saratoga’ Sweet Bay
Scientific Name: Laurus nobilis
Have you ever cooked a stew and tossed a spicy bay leaf into the broth? Rub your fingers along the distinct flat leaves of the Saratoga sweet bay tree, and you’ll recognize them as the same. These lollipop trees grow in the Bay Area and are drought-tolerant.
This plant offers golden blooms that become seed pods, but don’t worry – owners report they don’t make a big mess. In fact, the sweet bay is considered a very low-maintenance choice.
Scientific Name: Prosopis pubescens
Similar to the honey mesquite, the screwbean mesquite has many yellow flowers that become distinctive, caterpillar-like seed pods on this plant. That’s how this tree got its name: the screw-shaped bean pods that native wildlife quickly gobbles up.
Mesquite trees are also known for their fragrant wood, often used for cooking and barbecuing. Mesquite charcoal and wood plank cooking methods are popular for Southwestern and Southern American cuisines. This wood provides a signature smoky flavor.
Image Credit: Katja Schulz via Flickr (use permitted with attribution)
Scientific Name: Psorothamnus spinosus
The next time you choose to get inspired by a desert climate like in Joshua Tree National Park, make sure to look out for the smoke tree, or smoke thorn. These clusters of flat purple flowers wave in the breeze, offering a unique and mesmerizing quality.
This plant requires fast-draining soil and low moisture, similar to a desert environment. A small flowering tree, this plant will reach a maximum of between five to 26 feet tall.
Scientific Name: Vachellia farnesiana
This tree has so many advantages to make it a wonderful landscape focal point. The puffy, yellow flowers delight human and pollinator visitors. Then the blooms become seed pods, adding visual interest throughout the year.
You may be familiar with acacia as a flower since it often adds fragrance to shampoos, perfumes, lotions, and other beauty products. This spectacular tree will dazzle all of your senses.
This tree is low maintenance. Just be sure you plant it in full sun, or more than an average of six hours of direct sun per day. Sweet acacia is drought-tolerant and thrives in well-drained soil.
Scientific Name: Hymenosporum flavum
Like the Marina strawberry tree, the sweet shade is another medium-height tree. This tree grows to about 40 feet tall with a slender, narrow footprint. This tree is quite low maintenance, thriving in any type of sun exposure and deep, occasional watering.
Look for fragrant, yellow flowers in the spring and early summer, with evergreen leaves and gray bark. This tree makes a tidy choice to line a walkway or flank the entrance to a home.
The sweet shade tree is another tree on this list that is indigenous to Australia. These trees thrive here because of similar climate and coastal conditions. For the best growing conditions for trees from Australia, choose California coastal locations.
Scientific Name: Ceanothus velutinus
While technically a shrub, the tobacco brush can reach about 10 feet in height. This flowering tree produces long clusters of flowers. These abundant bunches of white blossoms reseed themselves efficiently, making this native seed a resilient and rewarding choice.
Some of the varieties listed here, like tobacco brush, are dwarf varieties that will thrive in containers. The small size allows you to control sun exposure, soil type, and moisture levels.
Dwarf varieties grown in a container are an excellent choice for beginning gardeners. These plants provide the same rewarding experience as the larger version but with a more manageable size and investment level for the novice.
Scientific Name: Tristania laurina
Like the sweet shade, the water gum is also native to Australia. The trees do best in coastal climates and near sources of deep watering. Water gum grows slowly and reaches a maximum height of about 30 feet tall.
Water gum delivers bright yellow blooms for this tree, usually in late spring or early summer. The blossoms gather at the base of the leaves and produce a distinct scent that attracts bees.
Image Credit: Tatters via Creative Commons (use permitted with attribution)
Scientific Name: Cercis occidentalis
If you’re looking for a head-turning flowering tree for your landscape, the Western redbud is a classic choice. These trees explode with traditional pink flowers in the spring. However, more varieties of redbud offer different colors of blooms and attractive foliage.
A welcome sight in winter and spring, the redbud’s abundant blossoms attract hummingbirds. The slightly sweet fragrance of the flowers promotes a feminine sanctuary in any landscape design. This tree will tolerate either sun or shade and grows to a maximum of 20 feet tall.
One important thing to keep in mind about the western redbud is its need for a cool season in order to prompt its life cycle. This tree would not thrive in a desert climate or area with consistently warm temperatures, like in Southern California.
Victorian Box or Mock Orange
Scientific Name: Pittosporum undulatum
This towering California flowering tree reaches about 50 feet tall and is popular in the San Francisco Bay Area. This tree is known as either Victorian box or mock orange. Enjoy the transformation from fragrant flowers in spring to orange, woody fruit in the fall and winter.
If you want to bring a tree into your landscapes, make sure you do your homework. Take time to observe the sun exposure level in the area you wish to plant your tree. If the site receives direct sun for six hours or more, it is considered full sun exposure.
Inspect the dirt in the area you wish to plant your tree. Is it sandy or clay? Does it drain well or retain moisture? Make sure you decide how much maintenance, like pruning, you want to commit to when choosing a tree.
There are many beautiful and distinct varieties of flowering trees you can introduce into your landscape if you live in California. From the gorgeous desert peach that thrives in the desert to a massive mock orange towering 50 feet over a city street, the flora in California never disappoints.
Choosing the right flowering tree will add months of visual interest and wildlife engagement to your landscapes. If some of these plants seem super obscure, check them out on CalScape. This resource tells you how many California nurseries carry this plant and where to find them.