Yellowwood

Botanical Name: Cladrastis kentukea, formerly Cladrastis lutea

Alternate Name: Kentucky Yellowwood, American Yellowwood

The Kentucky or common Yellowwood is a graceful tree with upright and open branching and a rounded form. It is a medium-sized deciduous tree that grows to a height of 30-50 feet, with a spread of 40-55 feet. This tree is native to the southeastern United States, namely North Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee, although it is also found in some other states in the midwest and the south. It is found growing in rich, alkaline soils – in river valleys and along ridges.

The bark of the Yellowwood or Cladrastis kentukea tree is an attractive, smooth gray, which provides interest on the winter silhouette. The leaves are medium sized and yellow-green in color when they first emerge. They are pinnately compound, usually with 7-11 leaflets making up each leaf. The foliage turns bright green in summer and then yellow for a fall display. 

The small pea flowers provide a beautiful and fragrant presentation in May. They hang in panicles, 10-15 inches long. They are similar to that of the Black Locust tree (Robinia pseudoacacia) or Wisteria. Flowering on the Yellowwood will occur profusely one year and then scant or not at all the next. 

The Yellowwood tree works well planted in groupings on large properties or as a lawn or patio tree. It is called Yellowwood because of a yellow dye the tree produces in its heartwood.  

Cladrastis kentukea doesn’t have any serious insect or disease problems, but it can be susceptible to Verticillium Wilt if planted in heavy, wet soil. Its branches can be fragile and susceptible to breaking during winter storms.

Height: 30-50 ft.

Width: 40-55 ft.

Shape: Oval, Rounded

Flower Color: White

Flowering Time: May

Fall Color: Yellow

Features: Showy, fragrant flowers, good fall color

Exposure: Full Sun

Watering: Moderate & Regular

Soil: Prefers medium moisture, well-drained soils. Tolerates clay and alkaline pH, as well as dry soils.

Growth Rate: Medium

USDA Zones: 4-8

Uses: Shade tree, lawn tree, flowering tree, groupings on larger landscapes properties

Similar trees: Assimina triloba

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