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Also known as American or Kentucky yellowwood, this ornamental deciduous tree of the Bean family has an open, rounded form and Wisteria-like panicles of fragrant, white flowers hanging below the branches from mid to late spring. The smooth, silver bark pebbles with age and is often covered with lichen and moss. The foliage emerges chartreuse in spring, becoming darker green and then turning yellow and gold in fall. Despite its beauty, yellowwood is one of the rarest trees throughout its native range of eastern North America. Even though it’s extremely rare in Ohio, the largest yellowwood tree is located in Cincinnati.


Yellowwood grows 30-65’ tall in a range of moist, well-drained soils and full sun or light shade. Once established, it’s drought tolerant and nearly pest free. The common name refers to the color of the fresh wood, which turns light brown after it has been cut and dried. The short trunk tends to divide near the ground and form a multi-trunked tree. The spreading branches provide excellent shade for small to medium landscapes, but are susceptible to damage from ice storms. The tree has a low canopy and benefits from selected pruning and a somewhat sheltered location. The deep roots make transplanting difficult, but they also allow grasses and shrubs to grow beneath the tree.


Native habitats include rich woodlands in river valleys, lower slopes of wooded bluffs, and shaded banks of rivers.


Plant Characteristics:

Grows 30-65’ tall and 40-55’ wide.


Prefers full sun; tolerates light shade.


Prefers moist, well-drained soils, including loamy, clay and alkaline. Tolerates road salt.


Pea-like flowers in large clusters develop at the tips of twigs and give way to smooth legumes with 4-6 brown seeds.


Alternate, compound leaves have 5-11 broadly ovate leaflets up to 6” long with smooth margins and hairy undersides. The leaflets are arranged alternately, which is distinctive. Fall color is a mix of yellow, gold, and orange.


Young bark is smooth and light brown or gray, while mature bark is light gray and pebbly.  


Wildlife Value:

Host plant to larvae of locust leaf miner beetle. Little is known about wildlife relationships; the flowers attract numerous bee pollinators. Deer browse heavily on the leaves and twigs.


Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:

The wood is used in small amounts for specialist furniture, gunstocks, and decorative woodturning.


Yellowwood, Cladrastis kentukea

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  • Once we're certain we have good germination, we'll make these plants available for prepurchase.

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