Press Release Contact: Michelle Sutton, City Trees Editor: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Society of Municipal Arborists (SMA), comprised of urban forestry professionals worldwide, has chosen yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea) as its 2015 Urban Tree of the Year.
The yearly selection must be adaptable to some harsh growing conditions and have strong ornamental traits. It is often a species or cultivar considered underutilized by urban foresters. The Tree of the Year program has been running for 19 years, and recent honorees include ‘Vanessa’ parrotia (2014), live oak (2013), Accolade elm (2012), and goldenraintree (2011).
Columbia, Missouri Natural Resources Supervisor Brett O’Brien says, “Remarkably adaptable to our state’s weather and site conditions, yellowwood is a tree which is not particularly rare but in my opinion is certainly not planted in our area nearly enough. It could be that it is not popularized because in un-irrigated turf areas it’s apt to be a little slow; in my experience I have found that in landscape beds or irrigated areas it grows fairly quickly.”
Indeed, the consensus is that yellowwood does well in a variety of urban conditions so long as it gets adequate water. It’s best used in parks, wide tree lawns, or, with pruning, in narrow tree lawns. Yellowwood is hardy in Zones 4a to 8b and is native to East North America. It is a medium-maturing tree in the legume family that matures at 30-50 feet tall and 40 to 55 feet wide. It can handle high soil pH (up to 8.2) and is considered relatively pest free. Cornell’s Urban Horticulture Institute says yellowwood is easy to transplant B&B or under 2-inch caliper bare root.
This tree has elegant year-round beauty. O’Brien admires the “pendulous fragrant white flowers, reminiscent of wisteria” and “the smooth, elephant-grey to light brown bark of the tree’s trunk as well as the lustrous reddish-brown stems.” He says that a favorite yellowwood of his is located in downtown Columbia on the west side of a red brick building, in an unforgiving site where the tree spends the early morning in deep shade and late afternoon in blazing sunlight. Nevertheless, the yellowwood has thrived.
O’Brien says, “Yellowwood trees admittedly have a maddening branching habit, generally doing fine until the tree is about chest height, when multiple leaders and included bark become quite common. Judicious and timely pruning can help, though at a certain point, it is probably reasonable to just accept that good branching structure is not this tree’s strong suit. Yellowwood’s other positive attributes clearly outweigh this one idiosyncrasy and I would suggest that the value and benefit this beautiful tree provides makes consideration for planting worthwhile in many urban areas.”
A pink-flowering cultivar ‘Perkins Pink’ is available but may be challenging to find.
The SMA recognizes the underutilized and strongly ornamental yellowwood for its service to urban forests and encourages its use when matched appropriately to site and as part of a diverse urban tree inventory.