My house has these two mystery trees and nobody I know can identify them. I am quite fond of them, since they look nice and provide fantastic shade:

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They're deciduous, but never flower in spring. Not enough chill hours, perhaps? I live in zone 7b New Mexico, but the trees are positioned such that they catch a lot of winter sun (southwest side of the house, close to a thermal mass wall that soaks up heat).

Growth is extremely vigorous every year, and they grow large numbers of lateral branches, resulting in a lot of crossing and rubbing branches and an extremely dense canopy. Here's what the leaves look like:

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Buds grow right out of main trunks all the time. New ones appear every year:

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Their bark is gnarled and dark gray, in places almost black:

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One is multi-trunked, and the other had a central trunk (with a lot of branches):

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Any idea what they are?

  • Are they evergreen, or do they drop their leaves in winter? Any thorns on the branches? Do you cut them back and if you do, what time of year do you do it? – Bamboo Mar 23 '17 at 11:40
  • They're deciduous. No thorns. I've pruned at basically all times of the year (oops) but nothing seems to phase 'em. – iLikeDirt Mar 23 '17 at 14:14
  • Can I suggest you don't prune at all for one year - that way, any flowers that it might want to produce get a chance to appear. If you prune at the wrong time, you cut off any incipient flowering shoots, and seeing flowers should help with ID. – Bamboo Mar 23 '17 at 14:16
  • I've only ever pruned by cutting off large branches that were growing weird, not any of the new shoots. But I can refrain. – iLikeDirt Mar 23 '17 at 14:38
  • I'm not sure what it is, except to say I think it might be a large shrub rather than an actual tree - many large shrubs form trunks over time. It looks like Pyracantha, but that's usually evergreen and has thorns, so I don't know what it is, but someone else might. – Bamboo Mar 23 '17 at 15:12

My suggestion would be a wild apple, Malus species. The bark is wrong for an elm in my experience (mostly because of the patches), and the foliage also does not fit. The multiple buds in a cluster fits with a wild crab more than a cultivated variety.

Malus will send out shoots from old wood. It is also quite common for apples to refuse to produce flowers when they are very happy sending out vegetative shoots. It is possible that the roots are under the house and may have found a cesspit or other rich source of nutrient which would cause vigorous growth along with crossing branches.

Malus is often recommended as a decorative and suitable plant for New Mexico and will tolerate drought along with abrupt changes in temperature and bright sun. Next time you are pruning a sizable branch and the sap is flowing, touch your finger to the sap and dab on your tongue. See if it adds a clue.

  • The leaves match perfectly. How can I get it to blossom? It would be a great addition since I have several other Apple trees and I'd appreciate the extra pollination. – iLikeDirt Mar 24 '17 at 18:40
  • This could be its identity...but I've never seen a crab apple that didn't flower just a little bit...please send a close up of a bud. Cool, great job @Colin Beckingham !! – stormy Mar 25 '17 at 2:02

I believe these are Ulmus parviflolia, Chinese Elm. Flowers are inconspicous.Chinese Elm

You need to get that mulch away from the base of those trunks. That moisture will eventually kill them.

  • Looks like you're right! Or maybe Siberian Elm; apparently there are a lot of those around here. – iLikeDirt Mar 23 '17 at 16:55
  • What's wrong with the mulch? I know in general it's not recommended, but my climate is a desert, and there really aren't any moisture/rot issues here. – iLikeDirt Mar 23 '17 at 16:56
  • I know which makes the plants even more sensitive and bacteria more hungry. The mulch encourages the moisture to stay long enough for bacteria to decompose your bark and get into the cambium, the live part of your trunk and start using that for energy. Eventually, you'll have those trees girdled and die. I MISS the desert. Pull that stuff away from the trunk. – stormy Mar 23 '17 at 17:00
  • What should I replace it with? If there's bare dirt around the trunk, it will eventually grow grass from the seeds all around, or get filled up with leaf litter from the tree itself. – iLikeDirt Mar 23 '17 at 17:01
  • Don't worry about that. Weeds are no big deal and if weeds are going to grow they will do it in that chunky bark where the moisture stays longer. Do you have a gas blower by chance? If you don't it is one of the best tools for desert gardens!!! Worth every penny. Look at Stihl. Gas, not electric. – stormy Mar 23 '17 at 17:04

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