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Yellowwood in flower.

Yellowwood is 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.  Note that the branches of the yellowwood are highly susceptible to ice storm damage. It was formerly known as Cladrastis lutea.

Botanical name:

Cladrastis kentukea

All common names:

Yellowwood, American yellowwood

Family (English):


Family (Botanic):

Fabaceae (formerly Leguminosae)

Planting Site:

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

Tree or Plant Type:

  • Tree


  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)

Native Locale:

  • North America

Landscape Uses:

  • Parkway/street,
  • Patio/sidewalk,
  • Shade tree,
  • Specimen

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

Soil Preference:

  • Moist, well-drained soil


  • Dry sites,
  • Wet sites,
  • Alkaline soil,
  • Clay soil,
  • Road salt

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

Ornamental Interest:

  • Spring blossoms,
  • Fall color,
  • Fragrant flowers,
  • Persistent fruit/seeds,
  • Showy flowers,
  • Attractive bark

Seasons of Interest:

  • late spring,
  • early fall,
  • mid fall

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Fragrant,
  • White

Shape or Form:

  • Round

Growth Rate:

  • Moderate

Transplants Well:

  • No

More Information:

Tree & Plant Care

Use corrective pruning to eliminate weak branch forks when young, but do not prune in early spring due to excessive bleeding.
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.  Flowers are fragrant.
Clusters are 8 to 14 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.

Cultivars and their differences

Pink-flowered Yellowwood (Cladrastis lutea 'Rosea' (syn. Perkins Pink): A light pink, 10 to 15 inch long, pendulous flowers. Rounded crown reaching 20 to 25 feet high. May be difficult to find in nursery.


Location of Cladrastis kentukea (Yellowwood) at the Arboretum