Content Detail

Yellowwood is a medium- to large-sized tree, 30 to 50 feet high, with smooth bark, large hanging clusters of fragrant white flowers, and clear yellow fall color. Choose a yellowwood tree for excellent shade in a small to medium sized landscape. Note that the branches of the yellowwood are highly susceptible to ice storm damage. It was formerly known as Cladrastis lutea.

  • Family (English) Pea
  • Family (botanic) Fabaceae (formerly Leguminosae)
  • Planting site City parkway, Residential and parks, Wide median
  • Tree or plant type Tree
  • Foliage Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
  • Native locale North America
  • Size range Medium tree (25-40 feet), Large tree (more than 40 feet)
  • Mature height 30-50 feet
  • Mature width 40-55 feet
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 4, Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7, Zone 8
  • Soil preference Moist, well-drained soil
  • Tolerances Alkaline soil, clay soil, Dry sites, Road salt, Wet sites
  • Season of interest late spring, early fall, mid fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Fragrant, White
  • Shape or form Round
  • Growth rate Moderate
  • Transplants well No
  • Planting considerations Highly susceptible to ice damage, May be difficult to find in nurseries, Weak wood and branch structure
  • Has cultivars Yes

Native geographic location and habitat: 

Yellowwood is native to North Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee, as well as scattered areas of Illinois, Indiana, and the southern states. It can be found in rich, well-drained limestone soils in river valleys, slopes, and ridges.

Bark color and texture: 

Smooth, beech-like bark is gray to brown. Interior wood is yellow.

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

Alternate, oddly-pinnate compound leaves are 8 to 12 inches long. The leaflets are 2 to 3 inches long, ovate, with entire margins. Leaves are bright green in summer, turning clear yellow in fall.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size: 

Drooping clusters (panicles) of white pea-type fragrant flowers show in spring once the tree reaches maturity. Clusters are 8 to 14 inches long and resemble white wisteria. Flowering tends to occur in alternate years, with heavy flowering one year and lighter flowering the next.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions: 

Flat, papery, brown pods contain four to six seeds and are 2 ½ to 4 inches long. Pods often persist into winter.

Plant care:

Use corrective pruning to eliminate weak branch forks when young, but do not prune in early spring due to excessive bleeding. Yellowwood is tolerant of high pH soils.

List of pests, diseases, and tolerances: 

Susceptible to ice storm damage, can develop splitting at the crotch of the tree. Also susceptible to verticillium wilt and borer damage.

Pink-flowered yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea ‘Rosea’ syn. ‘Perkins Pink’):

A cultivar with light pink, 10 to 15 inch pendulous flowers. This form has a rounded crown reaching 20 to 25 feet high. May be difficult to find in nurseries.


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