We are lucky to experience the beauty of a Chinese Scholar tree (Styphnolobium japonicum) growing in the side yard. It puzzled me at first. I thought it was an ash, then a black locust but when it burst into flower this summer… glorious clusters of creamy white flowers that drooped from the ends of all the branches like wisteria, I knew we had something else here.
It also goes by the name Japanese Pagoda Tree, implying the origin is Japan, however it indeed hails from China’s mountain ranges. In Kew gardens, there is an original survivor of the one planted in 1760. The tree was introduced to the United States in the early 1800’s and one of the oldest specimens can be seen at Longwood Gardens.
The leaves have turned pale yellow and have fallen from the tree leaving behind unusual pods where there were once flowers. They have the curious look of bright green beads or a string of pearls…. some small, some several inches long. They also bear a resemblance to peas because the tree is indeed a member of the pea family, Fabaceae. Michael Dirr writes: “A very distinctive and aesthetically handsome tree in flower; should be used more extensively.”
Although the tree has been through several freezing nights and the pods are showing signs of the cold, you can appreciate the unusual beauty of this ornamental tree in the fall. It also is supposed to be a lucky tree, a symbol of good luck and happiness. I know I’m quite happy it’s part of our landscape!