Driving along the roads the past few days, you can’t help but notice a tree that is awash in color — upright clusters of yellow blooms with rose-colored seed capsules — just in time for Fall. This stunning tree is commonly known as the Chinese flame tree. The botanical name is Koelreuteria bipinnata.
This broad-spreading, deciduous tree reaches a height of 40 to 60 feet and eventually takes on a flat-topped, somewhat irregular silhouette. It is often used as a patio, shade, street, or specimen tree. The small, fragrant, yellow flowers appear in very showy, dense, terminal panicles in early summer, and are
followed in late summer or fall by large clusters of the two-inch-long “Chinese lanterns”. These papery husks are held above the foliage and retain their pink color after drying and are very popular for use in everlasting flower arrangements. The bark on Chinese flame tree is smooth and light brown when young, becoming ridged and furrowed as the tree matures.
Another Koelreuteria species, K. paniculata, is commonly known as the golden raintree and blooms in May and June. It is not as prolific a bloomer and does not have the upright branches characterisitic of K. bipinnata. Additionally, K. bipinnata has twice compound leaves, whereas K. paniculata has single pinnate compound leaves.
According to the University of Florida IFAS Assessment of Non-Native Plants, Koelreuteria paniculata is recommended with caution as a landscape plant in central and south Florida. It is not as aggressive in north Florida and is recommended there without concern. Koelreuteria bipinnata has not yet been assessed for invasive potential in Florida’s natural areas.
My personal experience with both Koelreuteria bipinnata in Hillsborough County has always been positive. The fall colors are a welcome sight to accompany the drier, cooler weather. As the rose-colored seed capsules come
raining down onto the ground below, a curious creature appears. Resembling a stinkbug, the jadera bug is a scentless plant bug that congregates by the hundreds to feed on the seeds. Oftentimes, these bugs are not a pest, but can be a nuisance because of their large numbers in one area. I like them because in the process of feeding on the Chinese flame tree seeds, they prevent hundreds of seeds from germinating all over my yard.
But not everyone who has a Chinese flame tree is also graced with the presence of the jadera bugs. It is not known why the bugs will come to some trees but not to others. For those homeowners that don’t get the jadera bugs, they instead get lots and lots of seedlings popping up everywhere in their yard. This is a huge hassle, causing most people to have a love-hate relationship with this plant.
The next time you’re on the road, keep an eye out for a blooming Chinese flame-tree. I’ll let you judge for yourself.
If you already have one and want to share your experiences, leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!