Cladrastis kentukea - American Yellowwood
Family: Papilionaceae

Hear the scientific name

Cladrastis kentukea is a striking tree with long panicles of fragrant white flowers in June. American Yellowwood has bright green foliage that contrasts nicely with darker leaved trees and turns golden-yellow in autumn. It's an excellent small shade tree for smaller properties, as a single specimen or in groupings.

Alternate common name: Yellowwood

F   E   A   T   U   R   E   S
  form2 form Form

-medium to large ornamental/shade, deciduous tree

-maturing at 40-50' tall x 20-50' wide

-rounded vase, symmetrical form

-often multi-trunked

-medium to slow growth rate (less than 12" per year)

foliage Foliage

-odd-pinnately compound

-2-4" long x half as wide

-usually 7-9 leaflets, each elliptic to ovate

-bright green, terminal leaflet largest

-petiole enlarged at base and enclosing bud

-foliage often turns copper to yellow in autumn


-small (each about 1")

-in pendulous clusters

-fragrant, white

-flowers bloom in late spring

-highly ornamental


-pods (legume)

-3-5" long

-turn brown in autumn

-held late in the tree, giving winter effect


-green becoming brown, smooth, lustrous, many small lenticels


-smooth, gray to brown (like Beech)

-freshly cut wood is bright yellow (dye was used in the past)

-branches initiate low to the ground

C   U   L   T   U   R   E


-full sun (best) to partial shade

-prefers moist, organic soils that drain well, but is adaptable to poor soils, dry soils, and soils of various pH; does not tolerate wet soils

-may be somewhat difficult to transplant

-prune only in summer; winter or spring pruning results in profuse bleeding; proper pruning to avoid weak crotch angles is necessary; unpruned trees tend to fall apart in 30-40 yrs.

-Pea Family with some susceptibility to Verticillium wilt and canker, but generally resistant to pests


-zones 4 to 8


-native to Eastern U.S. in the Southern Appalachian Mountains where it grows in dry limestone outcroppings and stream banks

U   S   A   G   E


-fragrant flowers

-attractive floral display

-adapted to alkaline soils


-flowers attract bees

-susceptible to limb breakage (brittle wood and weak crotches)


-accent or street tree, buffer strip, shade tree, reclamation

-use in lawn, park, golf course, residential


-medium texture in foliage and when bare

-moderate density in foliage and when bare

S   E   L   E   C   T   I   0   N   S

Varieties and Cultivars - Search OSU PlantFacts for additional plants in this species


-trees with showy or fragrant late spring inflorescences (e.g., Cercis canadensis 'Alba' [var. alba], Robinia pseudoacacia, etc.)


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