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Japanese Pagoda Styphnolobium japonicum

Previously known as:

  • Sophora japonica
Phonetic Spelling
styf-noh-LOH-bee-um juh-PON-ih-kum
This plant has low severity poison characteristics.
See below
Description

The Japanese pagoda tree is a showy, medium to large, deciduous flowering tree that is a member of the Fabaceae or pea/legume/bean family. It has a rounded crown and grows to a height of 50 to 75 feet and is equally as wide. It is grown for its attractive green foliage and fragrant summer flowers. The flowers are white, pea-like, and hang in 12-inch-long panicles. Pods appear in the fall and persist through the winter months. Its showy leaves remain green on the tree late into the fall, thereby shortening the length of time for its yellow fall color.  

The Japanese pagoda tree is native to China and was previously known as Sophora japonica and may still be seen by that name in commerce. This tree may be found growing in abundance in thickets and upland forests along rocky mountain slopes in its native habitat. 

The previous genus name, Sophora, is an Arabic name. The epithet, japonicum, means "of Japan;" however, this tree is said to be a native to China. The common name Japanese pagoda tree is the result of its being planted on the grounds surrounding Buddhist temples in Japan.  

This tree prefers full sun and loamy soils. It produces flowers in light shade and withstands heat, air pollution, and drought. It can take up to 10 years before a sapling will flower. Normally 30-40 years are needed for its best flowering.  This heat-loving specimen will flower at its showiest after experiencing a hot summer.  

The bark is grayish-brown with reddish-brown furrows as it ages. The stems remain green for 3 to 4 years before changing to brown. The leaves are alternate, compound, and have 7 to 17 leaflets. The showy, fragrant flowers appear on 12-inch long by 12-inch-wide panicles. They are showy both blooming on the tree and when they drop, as you have a showy blanket of white on the ground. The seed pods form after flowering is complete and appear like "beads on a string.". The seeds are reportedly toxic and should not be ingested.

The Japanese pagoda tree is a good urban, street, park, or lawn tree. When grown in the open, it tends to branch low to the ground.  However, with proper care, it can be formed to grow into a tall specimen with an erect trunk.

Caution: The pagoda tree has been identified as an emerging invasive threat in the mid-Atlantic region.

Seasons of Interest:

Bark:  Winter      Bloom:  Summer          Foliage:  Spring, Summer, and Fall          Fruit:  Fall and Winter

Quick ID Hints:

  • deciduous 35 to 50 foot tall and as wide
  • stems remain green for the first 4 year
  • leaves are alternate, pinnately compound with 7 to 17 leaflets
  • each leaf is ovate to lanceolate, green on the upper surface and glaucous below
  • the petiole is swollen at the base and encloses the black bud
  • creamy-white pea-like flowers appear in large clusters in July and August
  • the fruit is a smooth, bright green pod that transitions to yellow-brown and is constricted between the seeds to give it a "beads on a string or a string of pearls" appearance

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems:  Although there are no serious insect or disease issues, leaf hoppers can be a problem.  Rust, powdery mildew, blight, canker, and verticillium wilt can affect the tree. The wood is weak and is vulnerable to strong winds or weather. It may break from the weight of snow if it is not pruned properly.

 

VIDEO created by Ryan Contreras for “Landscape Plant Materials I:  Deciduous Hardwoods and Conifers or Landscape Plant Materials II:  Spring Flowering Trees and Shrubs” a plant identification course offered by the Department of Horticulture at Oregon State University

Profile Video:
See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
'Halka', 'Millstone', 'Pendula', 'Regent'
Tags:
#fragrant#showy flowers#shade tree#fragrant flowers#heat tolerant#white flowers#large tree#fall interest#flowering tree#air pollution tolerant#street tree#poisonous fruits#dye plant#deer resistant#children's garden#playground plant#long lifespan#pollinator plant#fantz#parks#deciduous tree#toxic to humans#lawn planting#poisonous if ingested#broadleaf#landscape plant sleuths course
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
'Halka', 'Millstone', 'Pendula', 'Regent'
Tags:
#fragrant#showy flowers#shade tree#fragrant flowers#heat tolerant#white flowers#large tree#fall interest#flowering tree#air pollution tolerant#street tree#poisonous fruits#dye plant#deer resistant#children's garden#playground plant#long lifespan#pollinator plant#fantz#parks#deciduous tree#toxic to humans#lawn planting#poisonous if ingested#broadleaf#landscape plant sleuths course
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Styphnolobium
    Species:
    japonicum
    Family:
    Fabaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    A yellow dye can be obtained from the flower buds. Ancient Japanese prints used this dye. The flower buds are used in Asia in traditional medicine as an astringent. The timber is used for making furniture and for construction.
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Seed
    Stem Cutting
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    China North-Central, China South-Central, and China Southeast
    Distribution:
    Introduced: Czechoslovakia, Egypt, France, Hungry, India, Iraq, Japan, Korea, North Caucasus, Pakistan, Romania, South European Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, West Himalaya, Yemen, Zimbabwe, and the United States--MD, NC, NY, PA, OH, and VA
    Wildlife Value:
    Bees are attracted to the flowers.
    Play Value:
    Attractive Flowers
    Attracts Pollinators
    Fragrance
    Pieces Used in Games
    Shade
    Edibility:
    The leaves and flowers are edible; however, the pods and seeds are toxic and should not be consumed.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 50 ft. 0 in. - 75 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 50 ft. 0 in. - 75 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Poisonous
    Tree
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Broad
    Erect
    Rounded
    Spreading
    Growth Rate:
    Medium
    Maintenance:
    Low
    Medium
    Texture:
    Fine
    Appendage:
    Spines
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Alkaline (>8.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Available Space To Plant:
    24-60 feet
    more than 60 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    4a, 4b, 5b, 5a, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8b, 8a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Red/Burgundy
    Fruit Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Fruit Type:
    Legume
    Fruit Length:
    > 3 inches
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    The 3 to 8 inches long, bean-like, and pendulous pods contain 1 to 6 seeds. Initially, the pod is bright green and smooth and then changes to a yellow-brown. There are constricted areas in the pods between the seeds. This makes them appear as beads on a string. They remain on the tree through the winter months. The seeds have a sour taste and are poisonous.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Cream/Tan
    White
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Panicle
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Fragrant
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Summer
    Flower Shape:
    Irregular
    Flower Size:
    < 1 inch
    Flower Description:
    The small, pea-like creamy white flowers are lightly fragrant. They appear on 6"-12" long and wide terminal panicles in July and August. There are dull-white, male and female on different plants.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Leaf Type:
    Compound (Pinnately , Bipinnately, Palmately)
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Lanceolate
    Ovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Entire
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    > 6 inches
    Leaf Description:
    The leaves are alternate and pinnately compound up to 6 to 10 inches long. Each leaf will contain 7 to 17 leaflets. Each leaflet is ovate to lanceolate, 1 to 2 inches long with entire margins, and rounded base acute apex. The upper surface is green, and the lower surface is paler. The short-lived fall color is yellow. The petiole is swollen at the base and encloses the black bud.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Dark Brown
    Dark Gray
    Red/Burgundy
    Surface/Attachment:
    Fissured
    Furrowed
    Ridges
    Bark Plate Shape:
    Round
    Bark Description:
    The bark is grayish brown with deep fissures, furrows, and ridges. The furrows appear reddish-brown.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Green
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Description:
    The stems are green with bright lenticels for 3 to 4 years and then turn brown.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Lawn
    Recreational Play Area
    Landscape Theme:
    Asian Garden
    Children's Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Shade Garden
    Design Feature:
    Accent
    Flowering Tree
    Screen/Privacy
    Shade Tree
    Specimen
    Street Tree
    Attracts:
    Bees
    Pollinators
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Deer
    Drought
    Heat
    Pollution
    Urban Conditions
    Problems:
    Poisonous to Humans
    Problem for Children
    Weak Wood
    Weedy
  • Poisonous to Humans:
    Poison Severity:
    Low
    Poison Symptoms:
    If ingested, vomiting, diarrhea, excitability, delirium, and coma
    Poison Toxic Principle:
    possibly alkaloids
    Causes Contact Dermatitis:
    No
    Poison Part:
    Fruits