Japanese pagoda tree leaves

Japanese Pagoda Tree (Sophora japonica)

Arabic name: صوفورا

The deciduous Japanese Pagoda Tree (Sophora japonica) is an attractive ornamental tree that produces clusters of slightly fragrant creamy white flowers in summer. This native to China and Korea blooms from June to July. The flowers are followed by showy seedpods that persist on the tree.

The Japanese Pagoda Tree grows to a height of up to 6m, with a spread of 6m, and has a moderate growth rate of about 25cm per year.

It grows in full sun or part shade and is heat and drought tolerant. It thrives in well-drained soil.

Water usage:
It requires no watering once established. Generally, trees need supplemental irrigation to get established, especially if planted after the rainy season. During the first year, irrigate in the amount of 20 – 25 liters of water twice a week. During its second year, a tree needs to be irrigated in the amount of 40 liters once a week. Beginning with the third year, trees usually get established, and some, like the Japanese Pagoda Tree, do not require any supplemental irrigation.

This deciduous tree grows into a broadly rounded fine-textured canopy tree with arching branches. The green young twigs, turn gray with age. The pinnate compound leaves are 15 -25cm long, and are divided into 7 – 17 alternating ovate leaflets. Flowers grow in drooping clusters of pea-like flowers, followed by 8 – 20 cm long showy yellowish seedpods that distinctly constrict between seeds.

Notes on use:
A good shade tree; tolerates pollution; is excellent along roads, in patios, and in parks.

May be propagated from seeds and softwood cuttings.

Flowers, fruits and leaves produce litter.

Tree Browser


Leaves: Alternate; once pinnately compound; 6″ to 10″ long; deciduous; 7 to 17 ovate to ovate-lanceolate leaflets, 1″ to 2″ long, entire margins, rounded at base, bright green and lustrous above, somewhat waxy to hairy beneath.

Twigs/buds: Twigs slender; glabrous; green on twigs up to 4 to 5 years old; pith solid, greenish. No terminal bud; lateral buds blackish, hidden by leaf scar or by base of rachis when leaves are attached.

Bark: Similar to black locust except gray-brown.

Wood: No information available.

General: Native to China and Korea. Prefers rich, moist, well-drained soils. Shade intolerant. Fruit can be a nuisance; use fruitless varieties if possible.

Landscape Use: My opinion of this tree has changed. I had felt it was a good tree that should be planted more, but now I think it is not so good. Flowers are very attractive, but I have seen trees doing well, growing quickly, then dying quickly from what appears to be a canker. New growth often droops and looks awkward. Included bark is common. Dr. Frank Santamour of the U.S. National Arboretum has proposed after some genetic studies that the name of this species be changed to Styphnolobium japonicum. Zones 4-8.

Cultivars: ‘Columnaris’, ‘Pendula’, ‘Princeton Upright’, ‘Regent’, ‘Variegata’.

weeping pagodatree, Styphonolobium japonica ‘Pendula’ (formerly Sophora japonica ‘Pendula’)

Scientific Name

Japonica means “of Japan.”

Common Name

Japanese pagodatree is named for the use of the tree around temples in China. Pagodatree is also called scholar-tree because it was planted at the graves of Chinese scholars. It was an official memorial tree during the Chinese Zhou dynasty (1030-220 BC) and used around Buddhist temples.


Pagodatree is native to China and Korea. Trees grow in well-drained soils and full sun.


Not native to Kentucky.


Growth Habit and Form

Weeping pagodatree is a deciduous tree that typically grows 15 to 25 feet in height. It has a weeping form with pendent branches. The species form (Styphonolobium japonica) requires tremendous space and is best reserved for large areas. It grows 50 to 70 feet high and wide.


Leaves are compound, 6 to 10 inches long and have 7 to 17 leaflets. Leaves are shiny green and turn soft yellow in autumn.


Weeping pagodatree seldom flowers. Flowers are creamy white, pea-like and in 6 to 14 inch-long clusters. Flowers are fragrant and bloom between July and August. Flowers are pollinated by bees.


Fruit is a 3 to 8 inch-long green pod that turns golden when ripe. The pod is constricted between each seed, resembling a string of beads. The constricted seedpod is a key identification feature of this tree. Fruit ripens in October and pods persist through winter.


The bark is green to brownish-gray, furrowed and has tan lenticels.

Wild and Cultivated Varieties

‘Columnaris’ (‘Fastigiata’) has an upright growth habit.

‘Regent’ has an oval-rounded form.

‘Variegata’ has white speckled leaves.


Landscape Use

Pagodatree is pollution tolerant. Weeping pagodatree’s pendulous habit makes it a beautiful choice for an accent or formal specimen.

Hardiness Zone

Hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 7.

Growth Rate


Culture and Propagation

Trees grow best in moist, well-drained, fertile soils. Trees prefer full sun and are tolerant of urban pollution. Trees tolerate urban pollution, heat and drought. Propagate by seed or grafted on a standard.

Diseases and Insects

Japanese pagodatree is susceptible to canker and leaf hoppers that can kill young stems. It is also susceptible to powdery mildew.

Wildlife Considerations

Weeping pagodatree provides homes and shelter for wildlife.

Maintenance Practices

Minimal attention given appropriate cultural conditions.


Historically Japanese pagodatree was planted around Buddhist temples in Asia. The flowers have been listed as a famine food in China and Korea.

Japanese pagodatree is a popular container and in-ground ornamental. Japanese pagodatree was introduced into cultivation in the U. S. in 1747. Yellow dye can be extracted from the flowers by baking them and then boiling them in water.

Pagoda Tree Info: Tips On Growing Japanese Pagodas

The Japanese pagoda tree (Sophora japonica or Styphnolobium japonicum) is a showy little shade tree. It offers frothy flowers in season, and fascinating and attractive pods. The Japanese pagoda tree is often called the Chinese scholar tree. This seems more appropriate, despite the Japanese reference in its scientific names, since the tree is native to China and not Japan. If you would like more pagoda tree info, read on.

What is Sophora Japonica?

If you have not read much pagoda tree info, it is natural to ask “What is Sophora japonica?” Japanese pagoda tree is a deciduous species that grows quickly into a 75-foot tree with a broad, rounded crown. A delightful shade tree, it doubles as an ornamental in the garden.

The tree is also used as a street tree, since it tolerates urban pollution. In this type of location with compacted soil, the tree rarely rises above 40 feet tall.

The leaves of the Japanese pagoda tree are especially attractive. They are a bright, happy shade of green and reminiscent of a fern leaf, since each is composed of a grouping of some 10 to 15 leaflets. The foliage on this deciduous tree turns a brilliant yellow in autumn.

These trees won’t flower until they are at least a decade old, but it is well worth the wait. When they do begin flowering, you will enjoy the upright panicles of white, pea-like flowers that grow at the branch tips. Each panicle grows up to 15 inches and exudes a light, pretty fragrance.

Bloom season begins in late summer and continues through fall. The blooms stay on the tree about a month, then give way to the seed pods. These are attractive and unusual pods. Each ornamental pod is about 8 inches long and looks like a string of beads.

Growing Japanese Pagodas

Growing Japanese pagodas is only feasible if you live in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 8. Japanese pagoda care is much easier if you plant these trees in the correct zone.

If you want the ideal location for this tree, plant it in full sun in soil that is rich in organic content. The soil should drain extremely well, so choose sandy loams. Provide moderate irrigation.

Once the Japanese pagoda tree is established, it requires little effort on your part to thrive. Its lovely leaves are pest-free, and tree tolerates urban conditions, heat and drought.

1. Japanese Pagoda Tree – Removed

Sophora japonica- Styphnolobium japonicum: Japanese Pagoda Tree

Cultural Significance

The Japanese pagoda tree is included in some significant Chinese legends, and serves as a cultural and historical reference. As the official tree of Beijing, China, it demonstrates the common theme of aesthetic beauty shared between East and West. In its native China, the pagoda tree was typically planted around Buddhist temples.
As Buddhism spread into China, the tree was used as a grave-marker for Buddhist monks. In Chinese folklore and history, the pagoda tree was given a slightly negative association. Despite its use by Buddhists, the pagoda tree is traditionally thought to be inhabited by demons. The tree gained infamous status from its inclusion in the legend of the death of Chongzhen, the last emperor of the Ming Dynasty. In 1644 CE, Emperor Chongzhen is said to have hanged himself from a pagoda, as his palace was overtaken by peasants during a revolution.

Native Ecosystems

Despite its name the tree originates in China. Its original habitat consisted of Chinese mountain ranges, from which it was imported to Japan and extensively cultivated. The first specimens seen in the west were gained from Japanese sources in the 1750 s, hence its classification as a Japanese tree.
In the United States the tree is by and large considered non-invasive. The domestication of this tree makes it difficult for it to survive without human care. It is susceptible to certain diseases and pests, making it overall a fairly vulnerable species. The weakness of the wood itself causes the tree to be affected by strong weather. If not pruned properly, the branches will break under the weight of snow or in heavy winds. Because of its need of fairly intensive cultivation, Japanese pagoda tree is not recommended for an average or novice garden setting.

Beneficial Uses

The wood of pagoda tree is weak; a tendency common between trees bred for aesthetic enjoyment. While some parts of the pagoda tree are edible, the peas are toxic and should not be consumed. In addition to landscaping, the pagoda tree s flowers have medicinal qualities. Dried flowers contain anti-hemorrhage and anti-hemostatic attributes.
Traditional Chinese medicine prescribes dried pagoda leaves to treat conditions from blood clots to hemorrhoids. Modern chemical analysis reveals that pagoda leaves contain flavonoids which have potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidative qualities. These chemicals, among others found in the pagoda flower are being tested to see if they are valuable for the prevention or treatment of strokes. The Japanese pagoda tree s use as an ornamental or street tree is due to its ability to withstand urban pollutants and both acidic and alkaline soils.

Biological Characteristics

This is a medium-sized deciduous tree regularly used as an ornamental. It is characterized by its low, reachable branches and cream-colored flowers. The pagoda tree grows to a maximum height of 60 feet, and reaches a maximum width of 60-80 feet. Due to the pagoda tree s low branches, the overall appearance of the tree is spherical to oval. Its crown is round adding to its globular form.
The bark of the trunk is generally composed of alternating ridges of light-brown and gray-brown layers. This gives the trunk a textured, striated appearance. Branches tend to take on an olive-green color and have noticeable blisters, made up of gas-exchanging lenticels. The leaves of the pagoda tree are a glossy-green during the growing season, which gives way to a lighter green or yellow in autumn. The leaves are compound, generally composed of 9-13 leaflets. The leaflets are ovate, pinnately veined, with sharp points at their ends. The compound leaf is 6-10 inches long with each leaflet measuring between 1-2 inches.
The pagoda tree is a member of the Family Fabaceae, commonly referred to as the Pea Family. Because of this, the flowers and fruit of the pagoda tree, share features associated with garden peas. The flower is a pleasant creamy-white color, or slightly yellow. Flowers grow in long panicles composed of individual flowers which hang from the branches. These flower-bunches range from 6-12 inches in length, depending on the number of flowers. After pollination, flowers give rise to fruit, which resemble a string of pearls in a green pod. These pearls bear a resemblance to typical garden peas, but may be yellow or brown in color.

Colorado State University

Sophora japonica (so-for’-a ja-pon’-i-ka)
Family: Fabaceae, Pea

Key Steps

  • 1b – Alternate leaf arrangement — go to 18
    • 18b – Leaf compound — go to 58
      • 58b – More than 3 leaflets — go to 59
        • 59a – Entire or very finely serrate leaflet margins — go to 60
          • 60b – Thornless — go to 62
            • 62b – Leaflets obviously pointed at tips — go to 63
              • 63a – Pinnately compound — Japanese Pagoda Tree


Leaf: Oddly pinnate, 7-17 leaflets, each 1-2 inches long, pointed tip, smooth margin. Shiny green above, slightly hairy beneath. Swollen base of petiole encloses bud. Leaf is 6-10 inches long.

Bud: Blackish, woolly, small. Concealed by leaf scar. Unstalked. True terminal bud absent.

Leaf Scar: Raised, V-shaped, 3 bundle scars.

Stem: Slender, smooth. Green on young trees. Gray lenticels. Protruding nodes.

Pith: Solid, green.

Flower: Creamy white, 6-12 inches long, terminal panicles. Blooms in summer. Fragrant.

Fruit: Bright greenish-yellow pod, turning brown. 2-4 inches long. 1-6 seeds. Pod persists.

Habit: Large shade trees. Broad, round crown. To 40 feet tall.

Culture: Adapts to alkaline and saline soils. Moderate moisture requirement.


The Tree Formerly Known As Sophora

This is perhaps the most impressive specimen of Japanese pagoda tree at the Arboretum (Styphnolobium japonicum, accession 216-35*A). Photo by Michael Dosmann.

Scientific names for plants are essential. Unlike common names, which can vary widely, scientific names allow anyone in the world to know exactly which plant taxon is being referenced. However, scientific names are not set in stone and may change one or more times over the years. Taxonomists don’t make these changes on a whim–they may be based on the discovery of old records, rethinking of the importance of slight plant variations, or, ever more frequently, because scientific advancements now allow us to delve into the very DNA that defines a taxon.

Japanese pagoda tree produces large, airy panicles of small, fragrant flowers in late summer. Photo by Kyle Port.

Necessary as these name changes may be, I still feel a bit put out when a mellifluous name like Sophora japonica gets changed to the far less elegant Styphnolobium japonicum. This renaming occurred because of new evidence on chromosome numbers . But by either scientific name, this tree, commonly known as Japanese pagoda tree or Chinese scholar tree, provides some unique ornamental interest in late summer.

The fruit (pods) of Japanese pagoda tree look like short strings of beads. Photo by Kyle Port.

Growing about 40 to 60 feet tall, this species makes a handsome shade tree. Japanese pagoda tree has pinnately compound leaves with small, oval, dark green leaflets. It produces large, open panicles of small, fragrant, creamy white, pea-type flowers, much loved by bees, for weeks in August and sometimes into September. As the tiny petals fall they create a snowy blanket under the tree. The fruit of this legume family (Fabaceae) member is a pod that is constricted between each seed, making it look like a short string of beads. Japanese pagoda tree tolerates a range of conditions, including dry soils, and has been used successfully as an urban street tree. (Fun fact: Flower buds of this tree have been used to make a yellow dye–see how it and other plant-based dyes were used in ancient Japanese prints .)

Japanese Pagoda Tree

Shop Japanese Pagoda Trees

Japanese Pagoda Tree, Sophora japonica, is a spectacular late summer flowering tree. Also known as Chinese Scholar Tree, the Pagodatree is held in high regard throughout its native Asian range for its beautiful summer flowers.

The tree is similar to our native Black Locust, Robinia pseudoacaccia, without the thorns. The fernlike leaves are similar and the drooping flower racemes are very similar to the Black Locust. The form of the tree is very different. The Pagoda Tree has a broad form that can reach 70′ though 40′ to 50′ is more common.The Japanese Pagoda Tree has a juvinile growth period that lasts several years. After this, the tree flowers profusly and the fragrant flowers are a favorite of honeybees. The Pagoda Tree blooms during July and August, a time of year when few flowers are available. It is said that an acre of mature pagoda Trees can provide enough nectar to make 300 pound of honey.

After the bloom the Pagoda Tree sets attractive golden seed pods which decorate the tree until the golden season of autumn.

A Flower Cluster of Japanese Pagoda Tree

The Japanese Pagoda Tree is hardy in zones 4 to 8 and once established, it resists heat drought and air pollution.

This is one summer flowering tree that can be part of any landscape.

Pagoda Tree Fruit

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Landscape Plants

  • Broadleaf deciduous tree, 35-50 ft (12-15 m), wide as it is tall. Stems 1 through 4 years old are green (or green-brown). Leaves alternate, pinnately compound, 15-30 long, 7-17 leaflets, leaflets entire, ovate-lance-ovate, 2.5-5 cm long, green and lustrous above and glaucous beneath; the petiole (rachis) is swollen at the base and encloses the bud. Flowers pea-like, 1-1.5 cm long, ivory white, in large clusters, 15-30 cm long, appear in July-August (if it flowers). Fruit a pod, 8-15 cm long, bright green, glabrous (without hairs), changing finally to yellow-brown, 1-6 seeded, often constricted between seeds.
  • Sun and partial shade. Best in loamy well-drained soil. Once established withstands heat and drought well. Tolerant of polluted conditions. Fast growing in some areas.
  • Hardy to USDA Zone 4 Native to China and Korea.
  • Only a few selections generally available; ‘Pendula’ is a weeping form.
  • Styphnolobium japonicum is now generally accepted as the correct botanical name for the Japanese Pagodatree, however in commerce, the older name (Sophora japonica) is often used. The nomenclature change is based on chromosome numbers as well as morphological and cytological differences (F.S. Santamour, Jr. and L.G.H. Riedel. 1997. J. Arboriculture 23(4):166-167).
  • Corvallis: Cloverland Park, large tree near the corner of Garfield Ave. and 29th St.
  • Oregon State Univ. campus: large tree west of Bexell Hall.

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