Plant of the Week – June 17, 2021: Golden Raintree

I love this shade tree! Golden rain tree is perfect to be the second or third tree in an urban lot. It grows to be 25 feet tall and wide, and it’s mannerly in its habits.

Golden raintree was putting on a stunning performance just a few days ago.

Normally it would have been in bloom three weeks ago where I live north of DFW, but this February’s cold weather and May’s cloudy, cool weather put its bloom cycle behind schedule, so please don’t think that I’m presenting old news.

I pass this tree fairly often. I’ve been watching it since April. I could see that it was going to have a beautiful bloom season. But then heavy rains came and I couldn’t get back to take my photograph for you. When we passed it just a couple of days ago, it was still flowering.

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Probably the biggest problem with golden raintrees is that they’re hard to find in nurseries. I drove 70 miles to get mine 45 years ago, and I don’t think it’s a lot easier even now. Call ahead to see if your favorite nursery has it or can get it for you.

I did that. I called and called. Finally, one nursery said they had one nice tree on hand. 5-gallon pot. 12 feet tall. That was kinda large, I thought, but I hit the highway and headed the 70 miles to pick it up.

When I got there I found that it had grown out through its drain hole and had roots as big as my thumb growing into the ground. Essentially, we had to dig and transplant it in June just so I could get it home. I trimmed it way back to compensate for that awful shock, and somehow it survived. It served me really well until giant pecans grew too large overhead and ultimately shaded it out of existence. (Remember how I always tell you to plan ahead!)

Something you’ll need to know…
There are two species of raintrees common to Texas. Be sure you get what you’re expecting.

Bees and butterflies love golden raintrees. This photo was taken the same afternoon as the distant photo above.

“Northern” golden raintree (Koelreuteria paniculata). This is the one that I’ve shown in my photos. It’s winter-hardy all across Texas, blooming in late spring and setting its brown, chaffy Chinese lantern-like fruit through the summer and fall.

You can see why Chinese flame tree is popular in South Texas. Unfortunately, this past winter killed a huge percentage of our “inventory” in Texas landscapes. (Photo by Sairus Patel from Stanford University website.)

Chinese flame tree, or southern golden raintree. (K. bipinnata). Readers in the southern third of Texas have grown this one for decades. It’s really showy, also bearing golden yellow blooms in the summer, but its flowers are followed by bright pink lanterns in the fall. Unfortunately, it’s not nearly as winter-hardy, and February 2021 killed thousands of them along the Gulf Coast and as far north as the Hill Country and Austin. They’re trying to come back along their trunks I am told. Hopefully we’ll have it to enjoy once again.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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