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TREES & plants

Yellowwood

A medium- to large-sized tree, 30 to 50 feet high, with smooth bark, large hanging clusters of fragrant white flowers, and clear yellow fall color. Choose a yellowwood tree for excellent shade in a small- to medium-sized landscape. Another useful quality of the yellowwood is its deep roots, which allow for other plants to be grown easily underneath its branches. Note that the branches of the yellowwood are highly susceptible to ice storm damage.

Botanical name: 
Cladrastris kentukea (formerly Cladrastis lutea)
All Common Names: 
yellowwood, American yellowwood
Family (English): 
Pea
Family (Botanic): 
Fabaceae (formerly Leguminosae)
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Tree
Native Locale: 
  • North America
Planting Site: 
  • Residential and parks
  • City parkway
  • Wide median
Landscape Uses: 
  • Specimen
  • Shade
  • Patio/sidewalk
Size Range: 
  • Large tree (more than 40 feet)
  • Medium tree (25-40 feet)
Mature Height: 
30-50 feet
Mature Width: 
40-55 feet
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 4
  • Zone 5
  • Zone 6
  • Zone 7
  • Zone 8
Soil Preference: 
  • Moist, well-drained soil
Acid Soils: 
  • Tolerant
Alkaline Soils: 
  • Tolerant
Salt Spray: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Soil Salt: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Drought Conditions: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Poor Drainage: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Planting Considerations: 
  • Highly susceptible to ice damage
  • May be difficult to find in nurseries
  • Weak wood and branch structure
Foliage: 
  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
Ornamental Interest: 
  • Spring blossoms
  • Fall color
  • Fragrant flowers
  • Persistent fruit/seeds
  • Showy flowers
  • Attractive bark
Season of Interest: 
  • Late spring
  • Early fall
  • Mid fall
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Fragrant
  • White
Shape or Form: 
  • Round
Transplants Well: 
  • No
More Information: 

Tree & Plant Care

Should be planted in the spring only.
Use corrective pruning to eliminate weak branch forks when young but do not prune in late winter and early spring due to excessive bleeding.
Roots of the yellowwood grow deep which allows for other plants to be grown easily underneath the tree.   
Prefers slightly acidic soil but tolerant of high pH soils.

Disease, pests, and problems

Susceptible to ice storm damage, can develop splitting at the crotch of the tree.
Susceptible to verticillium wilt and borer damage.

Native geographic location and habitat

Native to North Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Also scattered areas of IL, IN, and southern states.
Found in rich, well-drained limestone soils in river valleys, slopes and ridges.

Bark color and texture 

Smooth, beech-like gray to brown bark. Interior wood is yellow.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Alternate, oddly-pinnate compound leaves, 8 to 12 inches long;  leaflets 2 to 3 inches long, ovate, with entire margins;  bright green in summer, turning clear yellow in fall.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Drooping clusters (panicles) of white pea-type flowers.
Clusters are 8 to14 inches long and resemble white wisteria.
Flowering tends to occur in alternate years (heavy flowering one year and lighter flowering the next).

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Flat, papery, brown pod containing 4 to 6 seeds, 2 ½ to 4 inches long. Pods often persist into winter.