Hillsborough Extension Garden Blog

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A Stunning Fall Bloomer: Chinese Flame Tree (Koelreuteria bipinnata) October 10, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hillsborough County Residential Horticulture @ 6:05 pm
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Source: TopTropicals.com


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


Source: Florida International University


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


Source: University of Florida IFAS


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!


8 Responses to “A Stunning Fall Bloomer: Chinese Flame Tree (Koelreuteria bipinnata)”

  1. Connie Savidge Says:


    I am so glad you posted this. I have seen these trees all along Bryan Road, and was wondering what those beautiful trees are that caught my eye.
    Thank you!

  2. Virginia Overstreet Says:

    On the campus of Hillsborough High School is a beautiful courtyard garden called Postive Park. A large Chinese Flame Tree is in this garden and the sight of literally hundreds of jadera bugs on the ground can be shocking to see. It’s a comfort to know that these interesting bugs are beneficial.

  3. Kelly Says:

    I learned something new! I have always been told these are Golden Rain Trees. Now I need to watch in May and June for the real thing. I enjoy the fall color the Chinese flame tree provides, but curse them the rest of the year as I pull volunteers. I need more Jaderas, or as my kids used to call them Red Butt Bugs. Thanks for the brain correction!

    • mdabreau Says:

      Glad you enjoyed the article. It’s nice that we have the two species giving us color at different times of the year. Hope you find some more “red butt bugs”! I love that name!

  4. Darla Says:

    Want to start one from seed, any suggestions? http://morefamilyandflowers-darla.blogspot.com North Florida

    • mdabreau Says:

      Hi Darla. If you already have seeds from this tree, you’re almost guaranteed to get seedlings, since one of the love-it-or-hate-it characteristics of this plant is prolific volunteers sprouting up all around the base of the parent tree — especially if you don’t get the jadera bugs.

  5. Kasey Says:

    I know this is an old posting, but I was tree hunting recently for my front yard and came across your article. I currently have one of these beautiful trees, multi-trunk, in my backyard, along with a Red Crape Myrtle. Both together make spectacular Fall colors. We are graced with the “red butt bugs” as well, but they aren’t too much of a problem. I rarely even see them and we don’t have this tree sprouting up all over the yard. It is just starting to go into it’s Fall stage now. For anyone who may run across your posting, I would just like to let them know it grows great in Southern California as well (San Fernando Valley) and provides wonderful shade and great color. For those that don’t like clean up, it’s yellow flowers WILL get all over the yard. I kind of like that though. Also, the flowers attract bees, but we just trim the flowers close to the bottom and they aren’t a bother either. Great tree!

  6. Cherie Says:

    I have been researching a single specimen of this tree in Gilbert, AZ…my nursery ID’d it for me, but does not recommend it for our area…what are your thoughts about growing it in Arizona?

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