Foliage Friday: Chinese Pistache

Last week, I came across this tree on the VA campus.

How bizarre are these nests of berries?

I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it. They look like birds’ nests speckled throughout the tree, and the berries are a mixture of red and green berries on thick red stalks. Could they be any more Christmas-y?

I had no idea what this tree was, and it actually took me quite a lot of googling to figure it out. It was the leaves that were the clue. There was one bunch of leaves hanging on to the tree:

These leaves are pinnate, which means there are multiple “leaflets” attached to a common stalk. A “simple leaf” is a leaf with only one leaf attached to each stalk. Compound leaves have multiple leaflets attached to a common stalk. Compound leaves can be palmate or pinnate. Palmately compound leaves are leaves in which the leaflets all join the main stalk at the sample point, like fingers attaching to the palm of your hand (kinda… sorta…). Pinnately compound leaves are leaves in which the leaflets attach at different points along the stalk, kind of like ferns. I think this resource explains it best. The leaves on the tree in the photo above are pinnately compound.

Pinnate comes from the root pinna which means “wing” or “fin” (the part of your ear that sticks up off of your head is a pinna, as in a “wing” or “fin” on your head), but pinna also means “feather,” which I think is a more appropriate interpretation in the context of pinnately compound leaves. 

So, what is this tree?

It’s a Chinese pistache or Pistacia chinensis.

If you think that name sounds like pistachio, you would be correct. They are in the same genus. The common pistachio nut tree is Pistacia vera. The fruit of this tree, however, are not edible. Most sources say the berries or drupes are red turning to blue. They look green to my eye. Very festive for this time of year.

Yet again, once I identify a tree, I start to see it everywhere. This photo was taken right next to the hospital on my bike ride in:

I’ve passed by these trees every day for the past six months, and only now have a name for them.

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