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Cladrastis kentukea (photo courtesy of Denver Botanic Gardens)
Cladrastis kentukea (photo courtesy of Denver Botanic Gardens)

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Zone
Zones 2-9, 14-16, 31-43
Full Sun
Full
Regular Water
Moderate

Cladrastis kentukea

Yellow Wood
Fabaceae (Leguminosae)
Deciduous, Trees

Native to Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina. Slow growing to 30–50 ft. tall, with a broad, rounded head half as wide as the tree is high. Leaves are 8–12 in. long, divided into many (usually 7–11) oval leaflets resembling those of English walnut. Yellowish green when new, they turn bright green in summer and brilliant yellow in fall. Bark is gray in maturity; the common name “yellow wood” refers to the color of the freshly cut heartwood.

Yellow wood may not flower until 10 years old and may skip a bloom in some years, but the late-spring display is spectacular when it comes: dangling clusters of fragrant, wisterialike white flowers (those of ‘Rosea’ are pink) are up to 14 in. long. Blooms are followed by flat, 3–4-in.-long seedpods. An attractive terrace, patio, or lawn tree even if it never blooms. It is also deep rooted, so you can grow other plants beneath it. Tolerates alkaline soils; withstands some drought.

Prune when young to shorten side branches or correct narrow, weak branch crotches, which are susceptible to breakage in storms. Usually low branching; you can remove lower branches entirely when the tree reaches the desired height. Prune in summer, since cuts made in winter or spring bleed profusely. 

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