Garden News Blog

Arborist’s Pick: American Yellowwood

BBG’s American yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea) is putting on a spectacular show this year. This species tends to have abundant displays every two to four years, but this season’s bloom is dramatic even by yellowwood’s quadrennial standards. White, fragrant flowers are covering the tree in 8- to 14-inch panicles that are said to look like white rain.

Even aside from its flowers, this tree is one of BBG’s more remarkable specimens. Planted in 1916, it is nearly as old as the Garden itself and has the presence of a veteran tree. With its multiple trunks, it sprawls to 75 feet in diameter. It is located in the legume section of the Plant Family Collection, just west of Lilly Pool Terrace.

The species’ native range is North Carolina to Kentucky and Tennessee, but it is hardy to Zone 4—well north of New York City. In most states to which it’s native, it’s listed as vulnerable to critically imperiled.

Yellowwoods are also rare at BBG. About a dozen have been on display here over the years, but this specimen is the last one standing. The six that were planted on the Overlook in the 1960s stood for half a century but had to be removed in the fall after a decade of decline.

Fortunately, this specimen has been largely undisturbed for a century. Nonetheless, it’s showing its age; several trunks have been lost over the years, and others show signs of decline. To preserve the tree as long as possible, we recently installed cables to support some of the sprawling limbs. We hope it will be around for at least a few more big displays. In the meantime, be sure to visit in the next week or so to see it in all its glory.

Alec Baxt is an arborist at BBG.

Image, top:
BBG arborists recently installed cables to help support this sprawling, century-old American yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea). Photo by Alec Baxt.
A view BBG's American yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea) from a bucket truck. Photo by Alec Baxt.
BBG's American yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea) is putting on a spectacular display of flowers this year. Photo by Alec Baxt.