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15 USDA Zone 12 Trees (Fruit, Shade & Fast Growing)

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Written By Shannon Campbell

Off-Grid Gardener & Food Forager

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Home » USDA Zone 12 » 15 USDA Zone 12 Trees (Fruit, Shade & Fast Growing)

With minimum average temperatures of 50 to 60 degrees F, it’s safe to say that USDA hardiness zone 12 is warm and balmy throughout the year. And in summer, it’s practically roasting.

Zone 12 occurs in just two US territories: Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Heat and high humidity are markers of these regions, so if you’re planting trees here it’s important to find species that can thrive in both.

Keep reading for our pick of 15 of the best zone 12 trees.

15 Trees that Grow Well in Zone 12

1. Barbados Cherry Tree (Malpighia emarginata)

Barbados Cherry
Image by mauro halpern via Flickr

A wonder of the tropics, the Barbados Cherry is a small tree that will make an impressive addition to your edible garden, as well as providing ornamental appeal. Though not technically a cherry tree, it produces small, bright red fruits that are referred to as cherries.

These fruits are edible and have many health properties, containing concentrated levels of vitamins and minerals. Though they are quite tart they can be enjoyed fresh and used in juices, wines, and jellies.

The tree itself is evergreen with a spreading habit, and its most attractive feature is its lavender-pink spring blossoms. It can even be used to great effect as a privacy screen or in small ornamental groupings.

The Barbados Cherry is adaptable to a range of soil types, but for best fruit and flower production it should be planted in a sunny location with moist, well-draining soil that has a slightly acidic to neutral pH.

Other Common Names: West Indian Cherry, Acerola, Guarani Cherry, Spanish

Growing Zones: 10-12

Average Size at Maturity: 12-18 feet tall, with a 10-15 foot spread

Fruiting Season: Late Summer

2. Coffee Plant (Coffea arabica)

Coffee Plant
Image by Teresa Rau Gros via Flickr

If the thought of producing your own coffee beans sounds appealing to you, then you’re in luck. The Coffee Plant is a small tree that is native to Ethiopia and grows well in zone 12.

It has a compact growth habit and ruffled evergreen leaves, and produces white flowers and small fruits that turn almost black when ripe. The seeds of these fruits are the coffee beans used to make your coffee!

The Coffee Plant is an attractive one, particularly when its flowers are blooming. You can use it as a small specimen or accent, just make sure to plant it in plain view where it will make a fascinating conversation starter for visitors.

Plant it in indirect sun or partial shade and rich, acidic, well-draining soil.

Keep in mind that while a single tree will yield usable coffee beans, you will need to plant several trees to produce any significant amount of coffee.

Other Common Names: Arabian Coffee Tree

Growing Zones: 10-12

Average Size at Maturity: 6-15 feet tall, with a 6-8 foot spread

Fruiting Season: Summer and Fall

3. Royal Poinciana (Delonix regia)

Royal Poinciana, Flame Tree, Flamboyant (Delonix regia) Tree, Leaves and Flowers
Images by Fern Berg, Own Work, for Tree Vitalize

Also known as the flamboyant, the stunning red flowering Royal Poinciana tree is a tropical species native to Madagascar, but has been naturalized in various parts of the world. In Puerto Rico, much of which falls under zone 12, it is considered to be the most beautiful flowering tree.

If you are planting trees for their ornamental appeal in zone 12, the Royal Poinciana should be at the top of your list.

The Royal Poinciana has an umbrella-like canopy and a spreading habit. It is most delightful in late spring and summer when its branches are adorned with huge clusters of scarlet and orange flowers that contrast beautifully with its delicate, feathery pinnate leaves.

You can use this tree as a specimen, street tree, or shade tree in maturity. Just take note of its mature spread, which can reach a width of up to 70 feet and is often too large for the average lot. Its root system also grows vigorously and can disrupt pavements and sidewalks according to the University of Florida Extension.

Other Common Names: Flamboyant, Peacock Flower, Poinciana, Flame Tree, Flametree

Growing Zones: 10-12

Average Size at Maturity: 30-40 feet tall, with a 40-70 foot spread

Flowering Season: Late Spring to Early Summer

4. African Baobab (Adansonia digitata)

African Baobab
Image by Ton Rulkens via Flickr

Widespread in the hottest, driest parts of Africa, the African Baobab is the kind of tree you want to plant if you’re living in otherwise difficult conditions. For zone 12 gardeners who are struggling to find a range of landscaping trees, this one is worth considering.

It is a slow-growing succulent with an open canopy made of sparse branches and deciduous palmate leaves. In rainy seasons it produces beautiful, pendulous creamy white blossoms. But its most notable feature is its excessively wide trunk, which can become bulbous in maturity and in unusual cases can grow even wider than its canopy.

Virtually every part of the tree has a long history of uses in its native range, from medicine to making fibers for fabric, rope, and more. They are highly culturally significant in Africa.

Though they are rather rare in landscape gardening outside of their native range, the African Baobab is not difficult to grow. It is generally healthy and long-lived with mostly minor pest and disease issues.

Other Common Names: Monkey-Bread Tree

Growing Zones: 10-12

Average Size at Maturity: 65-80 feet tall, with a 30-45 foot spread

5. Golden Shower Tree (Cassia fistula)

Golden Shower Tree
Image by Tatters via Flickr

In tropical cities around the world you are likely to come across the Golden Shower tree, also known as the Cassia.

With its long, pendulous racemes covered in profuse golden yellow flowers, it is one of the most beautiful flowering trees for hot regions and is a true showstopper in spring and summer, and often followed by a second smaller bloom in fall.

Otherwise, it is a medium-sized tree with deciduous pinnate leaves. Its flowers turn into brown seedpods, which possess pulp that is sometimes used as an herbal medicine.

Otherwise, it is mostly used in the landscape as an ornamental shade tree or street tree. Just be aware that it drops its leaves before flowering, which can cause a mess.

Plant the Golden Shower tree in a sheltered location to protect it from strong winds, but otherwise provide full sun and moist, well-draining soil.

Other Common Names: Cassia, Indian Laburnum, Purging Cassia, Pudding-Pipe Tree

Growing Zones: 10-12

Average Size at Maturity: 30-50 feet tall, with a similar spread

Flowering Season: Spring to Summer

6. Soursop (Annona muricata)

Soursop
Image by Lauren Gutierrez via Flickr

A small and fast-growing tree, the Soursop is a tropical native of Central and South America. It is particularly popular in Puerto Rico, so gardeners there should certainly prioritize this tree for their zone 12 edible garden or orchard.

Though it is deciduous in slightly cooler regions like zone 10, in zone 12 the Soursop tree will be full evergreen, providing color year-round.

The tree itself has a habit of growing unruly and shabby-looking in maturity, so it is most prized for its fruits. The Soursop fruit, also known as custard apple, is large and heart-shaped with spiny green skin. It has an acidic taste, is highly nutritious, and is particularly excellent when used in juices and purees.

While zone 12 gardeners won’t have any issues with the cold affecting this frost-sensitive tree, it should be planted in a sheltered location that will protect it from the wind. Plant it in full sun or partial shade, and rich, moist, well-draining soil.

Other Common Names: Guanabana, Custard Apple, Graviola, Guyabano

Growing Zones: 10-12

Average Size at Maturity: 25-30 feet tall, with an 8-10 foot spread

7. Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica)

Baja Fairy Duster
Image by Natasha de Vere via Flickr

A small woody shrub, the Baja Fairy Duster is a very attractive evergreen addition to hot, dry landscapes. It has an upright habit with slightly arching branches that create a fountain-like effect, and are covered in bright green, fernlike pinnate leaves. It is named for its bright red flowers, which look like little puffs or dusters.

The Baja Fairy Duster can be used as an accent, screen, or in a foundation planting.

According to the University of Florida Desert Legume Program, though it is technically drought tolerant, regular watering in the hottest seasons is still needed in order to maintain the attractiveness of its lush foliage and flowers. It is also pest and disease-free.

Plant it in full sun to partial shade and well-draining soil. Aside from drainage, it is tolerant of most soil types.

Other Common Names: Tabardillo, Chuparosa, Zapotillo

Growing Zones: 9-12

Average Size at Maturity: 5-6 feet tall, with a similar spread

Flowering Season: Year-round, peaking from Spring through to Fall

8. Lipstick Palm (Cyrtostachys renda)

Lipstick Palm
Image by Matt Witherow via Flickr

One of the most visually stunning palm trees on the market, zone 12 gardeners should not miss the opportunity to plant a Lipstick Palm.

Its long, thin crown shafts and leaf sheaths are a glossy crimson color, which has made it a popular ornamental plant in its native range in southeast Asia. Each shaft is crowned with a few sparse and gracefully arching pinnate leaves.

The Lipstick Palm grows best in tropical climates and makes a beautiful focal point in the landscape. When planted in tight rows it can even be used as a screen or hedge.

However beguiling the looks of this palm tree may be, it’s important to know that this palm is not an easy specimen to grow. It is picky and needs high humidity and well-draining soil. It is also intolerant of a number of adverse environmental conditions, including drought, salt, wind, and consistent excessive heat.

Other Common Names: Red Sealing Wax Palm, Sealing Wax Palm, Red Candle Wax Palm, Sumatra Wax Palm, Red Palm, Rajah Palm

Growing Zones: 11-12

Average Size at Maturity: 25-35 feet tall, with a 12-20 foot spread

Fruiting Season: Summer to Fall

9. Mexican Papaya (Carica papaya)

Mexican Papaya
Image by Forest and Kim Starr via Flickr

Another excellent and exotic fruit tree for your edible garden or orchard is the Mexican Papaya. This fruit tree is native to Central and South America, but today it is commonly planted commercially and domestically in parts of Florida, southern California, and Hawaii.

The Mexican Papaya is a small broadleaf evergreen and succulent tree. It has a single slim, almost palm-like trunk that is topped by a small umbrella-shaped canopy of large and ornate lobed leaves.

While it does add an exotic look to its surroundings, this tree is usually planted for its oblong green and orange fruits. The flesh of the Papaya fruit is mildly sweet, and it is widely enjoyed in various tropical and subtropical countries for its taste and health benefits.

For the best fruit production, plant the Mexican Papaya in a location with full sun and rich, moist, fertile, and well-draining soil.

Other Common Names: Pawpaw, Papaw

Growing Zones: 10-12

Average Size at Maturity: 10 feet tall, with an 8-foot spread

Fruiting Season: Fall

10. Curry Leaf (Murraya koenigii)

Curry Leaf Tree
Image by Forest and Kim Starr via Flickr

Get the best of both worlds with the Curry Leaf plant, a small tree that can be used as both a lovely ornamental specimen and a top-notch culinary ingredient. For centuries the aromatic leaves of this tree have been used as a food seasoning in South Asia, and US gardeners in zone 12 can plant it too!

The tree itself is a short bushy evergreen with bright and graceful pinnate leaves and clusters of fragrant white summer flowers.

When planted outdoors they can be used as specimens, understory plants, and for screening and privacy. They also make excellent houseplants, and when grown in containers can be used as patio or balcony plants.

Plant the Curry Leaf Tree in a location with good air circulation, full sun, and dry, fertile, well-draining soil. Heat and humidity are a must. Water moderately once established.

Other Common Names: Sweet Neem, Black Neem, Curry Leaf, Curry Plant

USDA Growing Zones: 10-12

Average Size at Maturity: 6-15 feet tall, with a 12-14 foot spread

Flowering Season: Flowers should bloom sporadically throughout the year

11. Red Frangipani (Plumeria rubra)

Red Frangipani
Image by Ivan Matthieu via Flickr

The glorious Red Frangipani is a succulent shrub native to Central America.

With its narrow dark green leaves and brilliant spiral-shaped flowers with yellow centers, it is no surprise that this tree is beloved wherever it grows. While it is deciduous in cooler zones, briefly dropping its leaves in winter, it should remain evergreen in zone 12.

What’s more, in hot tropical areas (including zone 12), the Red Frangipani will bloom throughout the year with a particular peak in summer, providing your property with consistent color and a lovely floral fragrance.

The Red Frangipani will look particularly beautiful planted near patios, balconies, and walkways. It is best planted as a free-standing specimen or as part of a mixed shrub border. It also grows well as a container plant.

Plant this tropical beauty in full sun and rich, well-draining soil. Take care with the milky sap that its branches can exude, as it can cause significant irritation to the skin and eyes.

Other Common Names: Jasmine Mango, Red Nosegay, Temple Tree, Red West Indian Jasmine

Growing Zones: 10-12

Average Size at Maturity: 15-25 feet tall, with a similar spread

Flowering Season: Summer

12. Noni Tree (Morinda citrifolia)

Noni Tree
Image by Forest and Kim Starr via Flickr

Another member of the coffee family, the Noni tree is a native of South East Asia, Polynesia, and Australia. The word ‘Noni’ is Hawaiian, and refers to the fruit of this plant that was historically consumed by indigenous peoples in all of these regions.

You’ll recognize the fruit from its unusual appearance, with its white and green glossy skin covered in small textured circles. Though it was historically used as a food source, the flavor is rather bitter and the fruit has a strong unpleasant smell when ripe. Today it is more often used to make a juice filled with health benefits.

The Noni tree is small and shrubby with lush bright evergreen foliage. Along with its leaves and star-shaped blossoms, it is quite attractive and just large enough to cast decent shade. Use it as a tropical specimen and shade tree.

Other Common Names: Indian Mulberry, Morinda, Ice Leaf, Hog Apple, Hag Apple, Cheese Fruit

Growing Zones: 10-13

Average Size at Maturity: 12-18 feet tall, with a 12-15 foot spread

Fruiting Season: Year-round, peaking in summer

13. Cannonball Tree (Couroupita guianensis)

Cannonball Tree
Image by Miltos Gikas via Flickr

A South American soft-wood species, the Cannonball tree is a tall, deciduous heat-loving tree that grows well in warm tropical and semi-tropical environments. The most notable visual features of this tree are its fruits and flowers, particularly its flowers which have waxy pink and red petals and duo-toned stamens.

The fruits are highly unique: large, smooth, and perfectly globular, these fruits are where the cannonball tree gets its name. They are so unique that some gardeners will plant the tree for the appearance of the fruits alone.

Though they are edible, they have an unpleasant smell and are not often eaten by people. They can also cause issues as they mature, as falling fruits can be a safety hazard and they tend to cause a mess as they decompose.

Plant the Cannonball tree as a specimen and conversational piece in a tropical garden, with full sun and rich, well-draining soil.

Growing Zones: 11-12

Average Size at Maturity: 50-75 feet tall, with a 40-60 foot spread

Flowering Season: Summer to Fall

14. Mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana)

Mangosteens
Image by John via Flickr

A tropical evergreen native to South Asia and parts of South America, the Mangosteen is a tree best known as a cultivated species, due to its delicious fruits.

The fruits of the Mangosteen have a thick pinkish-purple rind and large seeds that are each covered in a thick layer of white flesh. This is the edible part, and it is juicy, sweet, and tangy.

While the tree is rarely used as an ornamental specimen it is still fairly attractive, with deep glossy foliage and a neat, upright, spreading habit. The Mangosteen tree rarely suffers from any serious pest or disease issues.

These fruits are very popular all over Asia, so they are well worth growing in zone 12 if you have the opportunity. However, keep in mind that they are extremely difficult to grow outside of their native range, so take into account that planting them successfully will require significant research, time, and effort.

Other Common Names: Purple Mangosteen, Xango, Queen of Fruit

Growing Zones: 11-12

Average Size at Maturity: 20-80 feet tall

Fruiting Season: Summer

15. Teak (Tectona grandis)

Teak Tree
Image by Dinesh Valke via Flickr

An attractive and historically significant species, the Teak tree is best known as a timber tree due to its valuable and useful hardwood. Over millennia it has been used in construction, furniture-making, woodcarving, and more.

Native to South and Southeast Asia, it is a tall deciduous tree that grows up to 80 feet tall in cultivation but well over 100 in its native habitat. It has an open spreading crown and fragrant white summer flowers. Teak trees are somewhat common sites in botanical gardens of tropical countries.

The Teak tree is surprisingly adaptable and drought-tolerant and can be used as a shade, lawn, or street tree. It can grow in a wide variety of soil types, but for best results, you should supply it with plenty of sun and moist, fertile, well-draining soil with an acidic pH.

Growing Zones: 10-12

Average Size at Maturity: 60-80 feet tall, with a30-60 foot spread

Flowering Season: Summer

Beautiful Options For Tropical and Subtropical Climates

Given its mild winters and hot summers, zone 12 is a far cry from most parts of the continental US.

While you don’t have to contend with biting frosts in winter, the high temperatures and humidity will be your biggest obstacle to a thriving garden. Finding the right trees for your zone and microclimate is essential.

Thankfully, with lovely ornamentals like the Baja fairy duster or golden shower, and delicious fruit trees like the soursop and Mexican papaya, there is still a range of wonderful trees to choose from.

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Shannon Campbell

Off-Grid Gardener & Food Forager

Shannon has always loved looking after trees and plants since as long as she can remember. She grew up gardening with her family in their off-grid home and looking after her neighbor's plant nursery. As a child she also participated in native tree replanting, and as an adult has volunteered in reforestation programs in northern Vietnam. Today, she puts her horticultural efforts into tending her vegetable and herb gardens, and learning about homesteading and permaculture. When she’s not reading, writing, and gardening, she’ll be out fishing and foraging for edible flora and fungi in the countryside around her home.