Looking for a tough, unusual tree to diversify your yard or woodland? One with character and multi-season interest? Give the Japanese pagodatree, sometimes called the Chinese scholar-tree, a look. Japanese pagodatree has been extensively planted near temples and shrines in eastern Asia for centuries. It is native to China and Korea, but—oddly enough, considering both its common and botanic names—not Japan. The tree was introduced to the western nursery trade in 1747.
Those of us who know the tree as Sophora japonica should be aware that botanists have recently renamed the tree Styphnolobium japonicum to differentiate it from trees of the genus Sophora. The roots of Sophora species form associations with soil bacteria to fix nitrogen like most members of the Fabaceae family. Recent scientific studies, however, show that Japanese pagodatree is one of the few trees in the extensive Fabaceae family that does not fix nitrogen in the soil. Who knew?
The Japanese pagodatree produces large, very showy panicles of creamy white pea-like flowers over several weeks in mid to late summer, a time when most other flowering trees are done with their show. Dark green compound leaves provide dappled shade through summer, becoming yellow in fall. Bark develops a rugged look similar to oak as the tree matures, offering winter interest. Bean-like pods are 3 to 8 inches long, and are retained on the tree through winter, an additional seasonal texture. The roots tend to be fibrous and deep, unlikely to affect nearby hardscape. (more…)