This dense, rounded, evergreen native tree grows slowly to a height of 30 feet with a spread of 25 feet and can develop a trunk 12 inches thick. The large, 4 to 9-inch-long, stiff, dark green leaves are rough and hairy, feeling much like sandpaper. Appearing throughout the year, but especially in spring and summer, are dark orange, 2-inch-wide flowers which appear in clusters at branch tips. The splendid flowers are followed by one to 2-inch-long, egg-shaped fruits, which have a pleasant fragrance but are not particularly tasty.
Scientific name: Cordia sebestena
Pronunciation: KOR-dee-uh seb-ess-TAY-nuh
Common name(s): Geiger tree
USDA hardiness zones: 10B through 11 (Figure 2)
Origin: native to the West Indies and northern South America
UF/IFAS Invasive Assessment Status: not assessed/incomplete assessment
Uses: container or planter; street without sidewalk; deck or patio; shade; specimen; parking lot island < 100 sq ft; parking lot island 100–200 sq ft; parking lot island > 200 sq ft; sidewalk cutout (tree pit); tree lawn 3–4 feet wide; tree lawn 4–6 feet wide; tree lawn > 6 ft wide; highway median
Height: 25 to 30 feet
Spread: 20 to 25 feet
Crown uniformity: symmetrical
Crown shape: round, vase
Crown density: moderate
Growth rate: slow
Leaf arrangement: alternate
Leaf type: simple
Leaf margin: undulate
Leaf shape: ovate
Leaf venation: brachidodrome, pinnate
Leaf type and persistence: evergreen, broadleaf evergreen
Leaf blade length: 4 to 9 inches
Leaf color: green and rough on top, paler green and pubescent underneath
Fall color: no color change
Fall characteristic: not showy
Flower color: orange red
Flower characteristics: very showy; funnel-shaped; emerges in clusters at branch tips
Flowering: most of the year, but abundant in summer
Fruit shape: oval; egg-shaped
Fruit length: 1 to 2 inches
Fruit covering: dry or hard
Fruit color: turns from green to white when ripe
Fruit characteristics: does not attract wildlife; showy; fruit/leaves a litter problem; fragrant; fleshy 1-4 seeded drupe
Trunk and Branches
Trunk/branches: branches droop; not showy; can be trained to one trunk; no thorns
Bark: dark gray or brown, and deeply furrowed
Pruning requirement: needed for strong structure
Current year twig color: brown
Current year twig thickness: medium
Wood specific gravity: 0.70
Light requirement: full sun to partial shade
Soil tolerances: clay; sand; loam; alkaline; acidic; well-drained
Drought tolerance: high
Aerosol salt tolerance: high
Roots: not a problem
Winter interest: no
Outstanding tree: no
Ozone sensitivity: unknown
Verticillium wilt susceptibility: unknown
Pest resistance: resistant to pests/diseases
Use and Management
Geiger tree is quite salt- and brackish-water tolerant, making it ideal for use in coastal landscapes as a free-standing specimen, patio or framing tree. Most specimens are seen as multitrunked and low-branching but nurseries can produce single-trunked trees suitable for downtown and parking lots. It has been used as a street tree in some communities but drops leaves as a drought-avoidance strategy in prolonged dry spells. According to legend, the common name was bestowed by Audubon in commemoration of John Geiger, a Key West pilot and wrecker of the 19th century and is now used quite universally as the common name for this excellent Florida native tree.
Growing in full sun to partial shade, Geiger tree is tolerant of light, sandy, alkaline soils and salt-spray. It is highly recommended for seaside plantings. Do not plant where there is the slightest danger of frost.
Cordia boissieri is frost-resistant (tolerating temperatures in the high 20's) and has stunning white flowers with yellow centers.
Propagation is by seeds or layering.
Mites, scales, and caterpillars will occasionally attack geiger tree. The geiger beetle defoliates the tree upon occasion but the trees generally grow out of it and do fine. The problem can be locally troublesome.
No diseases are of major concern.
Koeser, A.K., Friedman, M.H., Hasing, G., Finley, H., Schelb, J. 2017. Trees: South Florida and the Keys. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.