Golden Raintree

(Photos by Steve Huddleston unless otherwise noted.)
Here’s a ray of sunshine popping through all the spring showers. A medium-sized tree that tops out at 25 or 30 ft. tall, making it the perfect choice for today’s smaller landscape.

I’ve driven by this tree in Collin County almost daily for the past 35 years. Every May it bursts into magnificent bloom. This is an example of why I love golden raintrees. Thanks to Steve for featuring it for us this month. (Comment and photo by Neil Sperry)

Golden raintrees have spreading branches but rounded crowns. They’re tolerant of urban conditions, including drought, heat, wind, and air pollution.

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You get a feeling of the quantity of flowers that are involved in this golden rainstorm. Click image for larger view.

The trees grow quickly and bloom at an early age. Its buttery golden flowers are borne in 12- to 15-inch panicles at the ends of every branch. They are followed by interesting fruit capsules that resemble Chinese lanterns. They flower in April in Central Texas into May in North Texas.

As the flowers fall, they cover the ground with a golden carpet, giving rise to the plant’s common name.

Each of those papery “lanterns” contains three black seeds. The capsules are green as they’re young, maturing to brown as they mature. They persist through fall and into the winter. Floral designers sometimes clip them and use them in their arrangements.

You get a good idea of the tree’s growth form and branching from this photo. You can imagine how beautiful it’s going to be just a week or so down the road as the flowers all open. Click image for larger view.

Golden raintrees aren’t always dependable with their fall color, but when conditions are right, they can be stunning. Reds, oranges, and yellows can predominate, making fall color just icing on the cake.

One of the main drawbacks for golden raintree is availability. It’s been around forever, but it’s still uncommon in the Texas nursery trade. Ask at your favorite independent retail garden center. You might strike gold!

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Observe the tree’s stout branching and the rugged character of its trunk and limbs.

Scattered fun facts about Golden Raintrees…
Scientific name: Koelreuteria paniculata, in honor of German botanist Gottlieb Koelreuter.
Native home: China, Korea, Japan.
Plant family: Sapindaceae, the Soapberry family.
Evergreen/Deciduous: Deciduous.
Leaf description: Compound leaves are large (in excess of 10 inches) and dark green during growing season. Fall color may be yellow to orange some years.
Winter hardiness: USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5-9 (all of Texas).
Sun or shade: full sun.
Soil preference: well adapted to most.
Pest problems: attractive to boxelder bugs.
Invasive? Not especially, but does reseed within same landscape.
Wood can be brittle during weather extremes.

We have borrowed this handsome photo of Chinese flame tree, also called “southern golden raintree,” from the Stanford University website. Photo credit to Sairus Patel. Click image for larger view.

Note: This species is not to be confused with a close relative, Chinese flame tree (Koelreuteria bipinnata). It blooms in the summer and produces very showy pink lanterns in the fall. Unfortunately, it is far less winter-hardy and is suited only to the Texas Gulf Coast. Even then, February 2021 killed a substantial portion of the specimens of this plant across South Texas.

Posted by Steve Huddleston
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