Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on September 18, 2000. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Chinese Flame Tree Fires Up Landscapes
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Names like Chinese Flame Tree and Bougainvillea Goldenrain Tree should give you clues that this is a tree with some valuable color for the landscape. Here are two more descriptive words that should get your attention this year: drought tolerant.
Since the first of August, I have been watching one bloom and bloom, and it was the same during last year's drought, too.
The Chinese Flame Tree erupts into long 12- to 15-inch sprays of yellow blossoms and makes everyone want one for their landscape, but for some reason they are still rare. You would think they would be more popular when you think about bright yellow blossoms hanging from trees in late summer when everything else looks like toast.
There are two species of Golden Rain Tree. Koelreuteria paniculata is hardy in zones 6 through 9 and blooms in early summer around here. There are also varieties that reportedly bloom later.
Koelreuteria bipinnata blooms in late summer to early fall and is hardy in zones 8 and 9. Several reference books suggest zone 7 and report tip damage occurs around minus 5. Bloom will not be impacted, as flowers form on new growth. The 50-year-type freezes that occurred twice in the 1980s did considerable damage to the bipinnata. Both are drought tolerant once established in the landscape.
There is no contest as to which one is prettiest, and that is the later blooming one. The golden-yellow flowers each have a touch of red at the base. Then when the bloom is through and the puffy fruit capsules are formed, they too color up in shades of cream, with rose pink and salmon. The fruiting structures of the paniculata turn dark brown.
There are little-to-no insect or disease threats to these trees. Both are deciduous, and many years they obtain a striking yellow fall leaf color. They also are tough in heat like we experienced this summer. Use them to provide welcome shade to the patio or deck.
The Chinese Flame Tree is small, reaching 20 to 40 feet in height and flattens at the top. It fits nicely in urban landscapes. Choose a site in full sun and set out nursery grown plants anytime into well-drained soil. Dig the hole three to five times as wide as the root ball but no deeper. The top of the root ball should be even with the soil profile.
Should you find one now to plant, form a 4-inch berm outside the root ball area that holds five gallons of water. After planting, water deeply and mulch. Remove the berm next summer.
Once in the landscape, feed in late winter with an application of an 8-8-8 fertilizer or one similar equaling 1 pound per 100 square feet of planted area. This is the area from the trunk to just outside the canopy.
They are most always sold generic by species There are varieties of K. paniculata called Fastigiata and September Gold. Mix one in a planting with a couple of deep lavender crape myrtles and then you will truly have a perfect picture.