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graythorn
ziziphus obtusifolia
rhamnaceae

  • Large rambling shrub up to 12' tall and usually a bit wider

  • MODERATE to low WATER (terrace to top zone)

  • FULL SUN TO PART SHADE

  • HARDY TO ABOUT -20Sº F

  • NECTAR PLANT FOR BUTTERFLIES AND INSECTS, SEEDS FOR BIRDS, AND LARVAL FOOD PLANT FOR BUTTERFLIES AND TORTOISES

It's not possible to overstate what a great wildlife plant graythorn (Ziziphus obtusifolia) is. Of all the plants native to the Tucson basin, one would be hard-pressed to come up with a plant that provides so much to birds, mammals and other animals, and insects. For one, the plant flowers and sets fruits intermittently throughout the year (usually in response to rain). That means that in most seasons there can be fruit in a graythorn. In a desert like ours, that is an important characteristic to the animals that eat such fruit. And it is why birds are always constantly around a mature plant. 

Graythorn also provides shelter for these birds and other animals. The branches terminate into spines which makes them formidable to some (larger creatures), home to others (smaller creatures). This plant also attracts nectar-loving insects like native bees and butterflies. 

Plants are large, unruly shrubs. Plant them where they can be allowed to ramble about. This isn't a fun plant to prune, and the plants do more good the more they are allowed to grow. Large specimens can get over 12 feet tall and wide, sometimes wider. Leaves are drought-deciduous (evergreen for those plants on irrigation). Plants are cold hardy to about 15º F. Plant in full sun to filtered shade. Naturally they are found growing by fences and under mesquite trees because that is where birds plant them (by pooping). But they can take full sun well, so long as they are irrigated. This plant is larval host to many lepidoptera including a beautiful black and orange moth, Pyrrha’s prominent moth (Cargida pyrrha). 

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Katherine Gierlach