American bladdernut

Fruit of American bladdernut.

American bladdernut is a large, native, under story shrub, often forming thickets in undisturbed landscapes. Beautiful clusters of drooping, tubular white flowers appear in early spring, followed by unusual bladder-like seed pods, which are persistent long into the winter months. A great plant for naturalizing or shady woodlands.

This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.  

Botanical name:

Staphylea trifolia

All Common Names:

American bladdernut, Bladdernut, Bladder nut

Family (English):

Staphyleaceae

Family (Botanic):

Bladdernut

Tree or Plant Type:

  • Shrub,
  • Tree

Foliage:

  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)

Native Locale:

  • Chicago area,
  • Illinois,
  • North America

Landscape Uses:

  • Massing,
  • Mixed border,
  • Screen

Size Range:

  • Compact tree (10-15 feet),
  • Large shrub (more than 8 feet)

Light Exposure:

  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily),
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily),
  • Full shade (4 hrs or less of light daily)

Hardiness Zones:

  • Zone 4,
  • Zone 5 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7,
  • Zone 8

Soil Preference:

  • Alkaline soil,
  • Moist, well-drained soil

Season of Interest:

  • Early spring,
  • Mid spring,
  • Mid summer,
  • Late summer

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • White

Shape or Form:

  • Multi-stemmed,
  • Thicket-forming,
  • Upright

Growth Rate:

  • Moderate,
  • Fast

More Information:

Size & Form

A colony-forming, under story shrub, 10 to 15 feet high and wide.

Tree & Plant Care

Best used as an understory plant in moist, shady sites.
Spreading shrub forms colonies through suckering roots.
Some stems can be thick enough to form small trees.

Disease, pests, and problems

Drought sensitive, supplemental water in dry periods.

Disease, pest and problem resistance

Resistant to black walnut toxicity.

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 7
Native to Midwest & eastern U.S.
Found in moist, rich woods and wooded slope, along river banks and in floodplains.

Attracts birds, pollinators, or wildlife

Provides protective cover to birds and other wildlife.

Bark color and texture 

Young twigs and bark are olive green and smooth. Older twigs develop tan fissures which contrast nicely against greenish twigs.
Mature bark is brownish-gray with white streaks along the trunk.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Opposite, compound, three-parted (trifoliate), dark green leaves. Each ovate leaflet is up to 4" long and slightly toothed.
Leaves are dark green and paler green beneath. Petiole leaf stalks are up to 5 inches long.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

 White, bell-shaped flowers in drooping clusters (panicles) appear in early spring before trees leaf out. 

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

A three-lobed, inflated, 1 1/2 inch, bladder-like papery seed capsules, which mature in late summer and often persist into early winter.
Seed capsules add interest to dried flower arrangements.

Location of Staphylea trifolia (American bladdernut) at the Arboretum