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Products > Pittocaulon praecox
Pittocaulon praecox - Broomstick Tree

[2nd Image]
Habit and Cultural Information
Category: Succulent
Family: Asteraceae (Sunflowers)
Origin: Mexico (North America)
Flower Color: Yellow
Bloomtime: Spring
Synonyms: [Senecio praecox, Cineraria praecox]
Height: 10-16 feet
Width: 4-6 feet
Exposure: Full Sun
Irrigation (H2O Info): Low Water Needs
Winter Hardiness: 25-30° F
Pittocaulon praecox (Broomstick Tree) - An unusual looking upright deciduous shrub or small tree to 15 feet tall with thick smooth grey-brown stems that bear, crowded at their tips, 3-4 inch long by 2 inch wide bright green slightly 3 lobed leaves. In the spring prior to the new leaves emerging appear clusters (corymbs) of small bright yellow daisy flowers. Plant in full sun in a well-drained soil. Tolerant of fairly dry conditions in summer months though this is its growing season so will grow better with occasional summer irrigation. We believe this plant hardy to around 25 F as it has withstood short duration freezes to this low in several Goleta, California gardens. After flowering two to four new branches appear at the point on the stem of the inflorescence, creating the unusual and gawky looking form that seems better suited to a Doctor Seuss book than real life. These stems, often showing scars from the leaf bases, consist of a thick water storing pith that expands when water is abundant and shrink as the stored water is used through the dry season. This pith is surrounded by a thin cylinder of xylem which is in turn surrounded by a thick, water-storing bark. This plant has long been in cultivation as Senecio praecox. In Gordon Rowley's “Succulent Compositae” he notes that this plant was in cultivated as early as 1829 by the Swiss botanist Augustin Pyramus de Candolle who is credited with naming the plant. Recent work to break up the huge Senecio genus now lists it as a species of Pittocaulon, a genus with five species that come from the drier areas of central and southern Mexico. The name is in reference to the pitch (pitto) that is evident on the stems (caulon). The long bare branches without their leaves can look a bit like a broomstick, giving the plant the common name of broomstick tree though the common names in Mexico are 'palo loco' (crazy tree)or 'palo bolo' (silly tree) because flowering occurs at the end of the dry season in habitat, well before other associated plants. The specific epithet 'praecox' meaning "earlier" or "premature" is likely in reference to this odd flowering cycle as well. Our thanks to our friend John Bleck who has continually supplied cutting wood as we worked to determine how to root this unusual plant.  This description is based on our research and observations made of this plant as it grows in our nursery, in the nursery garden and in other gardens that we have visited. We will also incorporate comments received from others and always appreciate getting feedback of any kind from those who have some additional information about this plant, in particular if this information is contrary to what we have written or if they have additional cultural tips that would aid others in growing Pittocaulon praecox.