Content Detail

American bladdernut is a large, native, understory shrub, often forming thickets in undisturbed landscapes. Beautiful clusters of drooping, tubular white flowers appear in early spring, followed by unusual bladder-like seed pods, which are persistent long into the winter months. A great plant for naturalizing or shady woodlands.

This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research. 

  • Family (English) Staphyleaceae
  • Family (botanic) Bladdernut
  • Tree or plant type Tree, Shrub
  • Foliage Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
  • Native locale Chicago area, Illinois, North America
  • Size range Large shrub (more than 8 feet), Compact tree (10-15 feet)
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), Partial sun / shade (4-6 hrs light daily), Full shade (4 hrs or less of light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 4, Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7, Zone 8
  • Soil preference Alkaline soil, Moist, well-drained soil
  • Tolerances Alkaline soil, Dry sites, Occasional flooding, Wet sites
  • Season of interest early spring, mid spring, midsummer, late summer
  • Flower color and fragrance White
  • Shape or form Multi-stemmed, Thicket-forming, Upright
  • Growth rate Fast, Moderate

Size & Form:

A colony-forming, understory shrub, American bladdernut grows 10 to 15 feet high and wide.

Native geographic location and habitat:

C-Value: 7.  This plant is native to the Midwest & eastern U.S. It can be found in moist, rich woods and wooded slopes, along river banks, and in floodplains.

Attracts birds and pollinators:

Attracts birds, pollinators and wildlife, providing protective cover.

Bark color and texture:

Young twigs and bark are olive green and smooth. Older twigs develop tan fissures which contrast nicely against greenish twigs. Mature bark is brownish-gray with white streaks along the trunk.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture:

American bladdernut has opposite, compound, three-part (trifoliate), dark green leaves. Each ovate leaflet is up to 4″ long and slightly toothed. Leaves are dark green and paler green beneath. Petiole leaf stalks are up to 5 inches long.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size:

White, bell-shaped flowers in drooping clusters (panicles) appear in early spring before trees leaf out. 

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions:

Three-lobed, inflated, 1 1/2 inch, bladder-like papery seed capsules mature in late summer and often persist into early winter. Seed capsules add interest to dried flower arrangements.

Plant care:

American bladdernut is best used as an understory plant in moist, shady sites. The spreading shrub forms colonies through suckering roots. Some stems can be thick enough to form small trees. It is drought sensitive, and needs supplemental water in dry periods. 

Pest, diseases and tolerances: 

It is resistant to black walnut toxicity.


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