Western Hop Tree, Ptelea crenulata

Our Western Hop Tree is about three years old now and is looking good, getting ready to produce its many fragrant cream-colored flowers. They will be set off beautifully against its glossy deep green broad leaves. The plant is in the citrus family, and it produces light green fruits, which are said to be “acid” and “tonic” (I have not tested this). Las Pilitas calls its look “prehistoric woodland.”

We were fortunate to find our specimen in a small (D-16) container at Watershed Nursery in Richmond. A shrub or small deciduous tree to about fifteen feet, it’s one of our favorites. We like that it’s hyperlocal, being endemic to just a small strip around the San Francisco Bay and the Sierra foothills. It needs support from local gardeners, and it will repay them with a uniquely beautiful plant.

Western Hop Tree range, image from calscape.org.

The hop tree is a good habitat plant. It’s a host plant for many native butterflies, including the Two-Tailed Swallowtail, the Western Tiger Swallowtail, the Giant Swallowtail, and the Western Giant Swallowtail, among others. It’s also popular with native bees. The native insects it attracts in turn attract many birds.

The tree is drought tolerant. It should not be overwatered. A chaparral and woodlands plant, it’s said to like full sun to part shade, but ours got a bit fried in our incredible later summer-fall heat wave last year (though it recovered over the winter), so I think it should be sheltered from the harshest sun and heat.

This is a great plant. I’ll pick up one or two more next time I find some available.