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This attractive flowering shrub often goes unnoticed in the woodland understories and shaded banks of Ohio, but it has enough bells and whistles to charm anyone who finds it. It’s easily identified by its unique pods and oppositely arranged trifoliolate leaves, both of which occur solely on this native shrub (Woody Plants of Ohio: In early spring, bell-like clusters of urn-shaped, creamy-white flowers bloom before and during the emergence of oval-shaped leaves, attracting a busy assortment of butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators. During summer and fall, fun and decorative inflated fruit pods mature from waxy chartreuse to tan. Some of us fondly recall popping the bright green pods and finding round, shiny seeds inside. The papery, brown pods and their rattling seeds persist long into winter on textured stems, sometimes pulling double duty as adornments in spring. The seeds are edible and are reported to taste similar to pistachios. The three-sided/three-tipped capsules, often likened to Japanese lanterns, are also prized for dried flower arrangements. 


Bladdernut grows 10 to 15 feet tall and wide as a large, multi-stemmed shrub or small tree that's perfect for filling in the middle layer of woodland settings. It spreads via seeds, suckers, and underground runners to form dense, shrubby colonies that are excellent at controlling erosion, so be sure to plant this fast grower in an area where it can spread. It’s native to eastern North America and is commonly found on stream banks in full or part shade and rich, moist soils. While it adapts to a wide range of soils, it prefers well-drained, moist conditions. Loamy, moist soils are probably the better choice when the plant is sited in full sun. Although it tolerates occasional flooding and dry soils, it isn’t considered to be a drought-tolerant plant and will benefit from water during long dry spells. Bladdernut has no serious disease or pest problems and is resistant to deer and to juglone from black walnut trees. Plants in this genus are resistant to honey fungus.


The genus name comes from the Greek word staphyle, which means "cluster." Staphylea is a genus of trees and shrubs with opposite leaves and drooping clusters of flowers. The species name refers to the three-leaflet composition of each leaf.


Native habitats include rich bottomlands, woodland thickets, and moist soils along waterways. Great choice for erosion control on slopes, along waterways, and in wet areas. Use in rain or woodland gardens, in understory plantings, or near water features. In sunny areas, combine with native grasses or ferns, ironweed, milkweed, or spotted Joe-pye weed. For borders or screens, plant with silky dogwood, red twig dogwood, elderberry, American plum, and blackhaw or nannyberry viburnum. 


Plant Characteristics:

Grows 10-15' tall and wide.


Prefers part sun but adapts to full shade and full sun.


Prefers rich, moist, well-drained soils but adapts to a wide variety of soils, including clay, sand, and shallow rocky. Tolerates occasionally dry soils and occasional flooding.


In April/May, clusters of flowers grow on short stems from axils of the compound leaves. Each flower is about 1/3” long with 5 outer sepals, 5 inner petals, several protruding, golden-tipped stamens, and a pistil. Sepals change from white to light green or pink.


Two buds are paired at the tip of the stem. Fruits are inflated, papery, ovoid-shaped seed capsules 1-2” long. Each of the 3 angular lobes has a single seed.


Opposite leaves are 2-4” long with ovate-shaped leaflets up to 4” long. Leaflet has rounded bottom, finely serrated margins, and short but tapered tip. Upper surface is hairless, while underside is light green and pubescent (small hairs). Terminal leaflet has a stalk up to 1” long, while other leaflets have very short petioles. Fall color is yellow to red.


Trunk and larger branches have bark that is mostly grayish brown, slightly grooved, and flaky. Bark on smaller branches is smooth and often striped. Young stems are smooth and reddish brown.


Wildlife Value:

Host plant for larvae of whitemarked tussock moth and fall webworm, both of which are important food sources for birds. Pollinators include hummingbirds, butterflies, halictus and andrena bee species, honey and bumble bees, syrphid flies, dance flies, and the giant bee fly.


Bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects enjoy the nectar from the flowers. Small mammals browse the foliage. Provides protection and habitat for birds and other wildlife.


The larvae of bladdernut slug sawfly has been observed on bladdernuts in Ohio by naturalist Joe Boggs ( While the slugs do cause variable damage, healthy shrubs and trees can tolerate some defoliation and bounce back with new foliage. Sawflies are an important food source for birds, parasitic wasps, and other predator species.


Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:

Native Americans used an infusion of bladdernut for its antirheumatic, dermatological, sedative, and gynecological properties.


Seeds may be eaten raw or cooked. A sweet, edible cooking oil oil is obtained from pressing the seeds.


The dried seed capsules were reportedly used by the Meskwaki nation in dances and ritual ceremonies. The seeds were used in gourd rattles.



Morton Arboretum:


North Carolina State Extension: 


Ohio Department of Natural Resources:


Tree Time:


OSU Extension:


Missouri Botanical Garden:


Johnson’s Nusery:


Nat’l Library of Medicine:


Hort Travels: 

Bladdernut, Staphylea trifolia

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