fbpx Japanese scholar tree | The Morton Arboretum

Japanese scholar tree

Pagoda tree has glossy compound foliage.

Japanese scholar tree is an interesting member of the pea family. In summer, the tree produces clusters of creamy white flowers that have a mild fragrance. The "pea pods" that follow the flowers are unusual in that they are constricted between each seed, giving the fruit the appearance of a string of beads. Despite its name, this tree is really native to China. Also known as Styphnolobium japonicum.

This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.

Botanical name:

Sophora japonica

All common names:

Japanese pagoda tree, scholar-tree, scholar tree, Chinese scholar tree

Family (English):


Family (Botanic):

Fabaceae (formerly Leguminosae)

Planting Site:

  • Residential and parks,
  • City parkway,
  • Wide median,
  • Restricted sites

Tree or Plant Type:

  • Tree


  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)

Native Locale:

  • Non-native

Landscape Uses:

  • Parkway/street,
  • Shade tree,
  • Specimen

Size Range:

  • Large tree (more than 40 feet)

Mature Height:

50-75 feet

Mature Width:

50-75 feet

Light Exposure:

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

Hardiness Zones:

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

Soil Preference:

  • Moist, well-drained soil


  • Dry sites,
  • Alkaline soil,
  • Road salt

Acid Soils:

  • Tolerant

Alkaline Soils:

  • Tolerant

Salt Spray:

  • Moderately Tolerant

Soil Salt:

  • Tolerant

Drought Conditions:

  • Tolerant

Poor Drainage:

  • Moderately Tolerant

Planting Considerations:

  • May be difficult to find in nurseries

Ornamental Interest:

  • Summer blossoms,
  • Fragrant flowers,
  • Showy flowers

Seasons of Interest:

  • midsummer,
  • late summer,
  • early fall

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Fragrant,
  • White

Shape or Form:

  • Round

Growth Rate:

  • Moderate

Transplants Well:

  • Yes


  • Insect pollinators

More Information:

Tree & Plant Care

This species can be slow to come into flower and young trees may not flower until ten years old.  Once established this tree is tolerant of urban conditions (heat, drought and pollution).

Disease, pests, and problems

Cankers, twig blight and potato leafhoppers are of concern.

Native geographic location and habitat

Native to China and Korea.

Bark color and texture 

Light gray bark with rough-textured interlacing ridges.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Leaves are compound and alternate, The leaf is 6 to 10 inches long with 9 to 13 leaflets.  Medium green in summer changing to yellow green in fall.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Creamy white flowers in large clusters produced in late summer.  Flowers have a light fragrance.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Fruit are legumes (pods) that are often constricted between the seeds inside, giving the fruit the appearance of a string of beads.

Cultivars and their differences

Millstone™ Japanese pagoda tree (Styphnolobium japonicum 'Halka'):  45 feet high by 35 feet wide with a rounded to broad oval, uniform habit.  Yellow fall color.

Regent® Japanese pagoda tree (Styphnolobium japonicum 'Regent'):  Faster growing than the species.  Rounded habit (50 feet high by 45 feet wide).  Flowers well at an early age.


Location of Sophora japonica (Japanese scholar tree) at the Arboretum