Also known as varnish tree and Phoenix tree, this deciduous tree is native to China, Japan, and Korea. It is a member of the mallow family, Malvaceae, that also includes okra, cotton, hibiscus, and cacao. The upright branches and trunk are covered with light gray-green shiny bark that is considered unique and attractive. The palmately-veined leaves have three to five pointed lobes, are six to twelve inches long by four to eight inches wide, and are bright green before turning yellow in the fall. The fragrant flowers appear in the summer and are ¾” wide, greenish-white. They are carried in upright branched loose terminal clusters ten to twenty inches long and are followed by leather pods in the fall. The pods are two to four inches long and separates into four expanded leafy sections so that it looks like a flower with pea- like seeds along the margins. The trees give a lush tropical look to a garden but the litter produced by pods and leaves may limit the desirability of their use in the garden or as street tree. They freely produce seeds and can become invasive.
Type: Deciduous tree
Outstanding Feature: Foliage, fruit, winter appearance
Form: Rounded crown
Growth Rate: Fast (Florida) to slow (California)
Bloom: Fragrant star-shaped greenish-white flowers ¾ “ wide in upright branched loose terminal clusters ten to twenty inches long in summer
Size: 20-40’ H x 15-40’ W
Light: Full sun; tolerates some shade
Soil: Average, medium moist, well-drained; becomes somewhat drought resistant with maturity.
Hardiness: Zones 7-9
Care: Low maintenance
Pests and Diseases: None of significance but is host to the giant white fly.
Comments: Can become invasive; litter from leaves and seed pods can be an issue.