A fairly rare native tree with a narrow geographic range is redefining itself as an up and coming urban tree. Despite its obscurity in nature, the yellowwood (Cladestris kentukea), has become the darling of the urban tree crowd.

The yellowwood is a good tree for urban landscapes. In fact, the yellowwood was recently named the 2015 Urban Tree of the Year by the Society of Municipal Arborists. Yellowwood has a number of desirable traits that make it a good tree to utilize in landscape planting situations.

Yellowwood is a medium-sized tree with slower growth characteristics having smooth grayish-white bark similar to that of a beech tree. This tree has a compound leaf that looks somewhat like the leaf of a hickory tree.

The tree maintains a dense form which provides a lot of shade. Yellowwood is fairly resistant to most insect and disease pests that impacts other landscape trees. Yellowwood is tolerant of a wide range of soils, acidic or basic in pH.

Besides the favorable growth characteristics, the yellowwood tree has a fragrant, showy, wisteria-like raceme that appears in May or June depending on the location. Some cultivars exist that produce a pink flower such as Perkin’s pink.

The yellowwood requires a lot of sun and does not thrive in shady conditions. This tree also develops a profuse branching pattern which can result in increased risk of storm damage unless the tree is pruned at an early age to develop good growth habits. Yellowwood trees will grow to be 50 feet tall and nearly as wide if space permits.

The Yellowwood is native to North Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee extending westward to Oklahoma. Within that range this tree is normally associated with forests that occur on limestone ridges and other karst topography.

Yellowwood gets its name from the heartwood that has a yellow color when freshly cut. The yellowwood is a legume, meaning that it fixes nitrogen and produces seed pods.

This tree is in a genus that includes other trees that are native only to Asia.

The wood of this tree is moderately strong like that of the walnut. The colorful wood is used in turning stock, furniture, and gun stocks.

Given its popularity in urban tree plantings, you are more likely to see this tree in a nearby landscape than in the wild.

Article by FCFCDB

Nature Notes for 5/10/2015