Raining Fall Color
It is fall in southwest Florida. Pumpkins have arrived on doorsteps and jackets are emerging from the depths of closets to meet the chill of early morning. Marking the turn of the seasons in Florida takes careful observation. In contrast with more northern climates, southwest Florida lacks a preponderance of showy fall foliage. Unfortunately, one of the most visible harbingers of cooler weather is a tree not from Florida at all, but from northern China through Korea. The Golden Rain tree, Koelreuteria elegans produces vast quantities of golden blossoms followed by rose colored papery fruit capsules. This October in Manatee County the trees are showily producing their fruit and generating questions from the community.
This tree can reach 40 ft. in overall height with a width of 30-40 ft. Leaves are compound (meaning made up of small leaflets) and is a member of the ‘soapberry’ family which also contains species such as Rambutan and Lychee. The tree has an open growth habit in the canopy providing minimal shade but is tolerant of many soil types and is hardy from zones 5b-9b. As a non-native tree to Florida used extensively in landscapes, Golden Rain tree has been assessed by the University of Florida’s Assessment of Non-Native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas and falls into the ‘Caution’ or yellow category. You can think of the category as corresponding to a street light.
- Green is a go, you can plant and encourage others to plant,
- Yellow is slow with care, you should manage for potential escape,
- Red is stop, do not plant, and don’t encourage others to plant.
Since Golden rain tree is a prolific bloomer and creates many seeds, it will be necessary for you to manage its potential escape into natural areas, neighbors’ yards, or areas of your landscape where it is not desired. Not only does this tree pose a risk for nearby natural areas, but it will also be a management headache for you and your neighbor, not to mention that the wood tends toward weakness, making it ill-suited to our storm prone region.
If color is your goal, many alternative options exist for your Florida landscape. Not only do we have several tree varieties that can provide fall color, but a wide variety of wildflowers and grasses can also be incorporated throughout your yard.