Now and then you come across a tree that offers four-season interest, with few drawbacks and just the right size for today's gardens and yet, mysteriously, it's hardly planted. What a mystery because Chinese flame tree (Koelreuteria bipinnata), a.k.a. Chinese golden-rain tree, Bougainvillea golden-rain tree, or just Golden raintree, is spectacular. In late spring it litters the ground with perfumed petals, while beautiful, emerald foliage casts a cool and dappled shade. Then in summer clusters of papery, pink capsules appear, and as the summer turns to autumn the delicate pink turns to a rich salmon. This tree will earn you more compliments than any other large plant in your garden. And despite all of its many lovely ornamental characteristics it is a tough tree which requires little maintenance.

Chinese flame tree is one of the few yellow-flowering trees in the landscape. The other notable  is Laburnum. Chinese flame tree is a broad-spreading, deciduous tree that reaches a height of 40 to 60 feet with an informal spreading form. It is a superb patio, shade, street, or specimen tree. The small, fragrant flowers appear in bright clusters and are followed by the "Chinese lanterns". These capsules are held aloft from the foliage and are a lovely shell-pink and work very nicely in flower arrangements as well. The capsules persist into winter, turning a light tan.

Chinese flame tree should be grown in full sun on any well-drained soil, sand or heavy clay, and only needs moderate watering. Once established it tolerates wind, air pollution, salt, heat, and drought.

Koelreuteria is a genus of three species in the Soapberry family, and are native to southern and eastern Asia. They are now planted around the world. The Chinese flame tree will grow in the southernmost UK, warm temperate and subtropical New Zealand, Australia and the southern half of the US. As usual, this special tree will not be found in the popular landscape nurseries but more likely in a specialty, mail-order, plant nursery.


Chinese flame tree


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