Golden Rain Tree: The Allure of the Invasive Intruder

It is officially fall in Florida. Temperatures are dropping, the holidays are just around the corner, and *gasp* the notorious golden rain trees have finally set fruit! Oh, you know the one. Adorned with sprawling limbs covered in peach-colored, delicate paper lanterns, it’s the botanical spectacle that has captured everyone’s attention. While this show-stopping tree is admired by many, it’s impossible to overlook it’s highly invasive characteristics. In fact, the golden rain tree (Koelreuteria elegans) is currently listed by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council as a Category II invasive.

The golden rain tree (Koelreuteria elegans) in full bloom. Photo courtesy of UF/IFAS.

Native to northern China and Korea, the golden rain tree was introduced to Florida in the mid-1900s as a fast-growing ornamental for developed landscapes. Fast-growing is perhaps an understatement, as this species is capable of reaching heights between 25-50 feet with a 35-50 foot canopy spread in a relatively short period of time. While the swift development of these plants might initially appear beneficial for household gardeners, the resulting weaker wood over time could pose challenges, especially in times of strong winds.

Flowers and fruit of the golden rain tree. Photo courtesy of the Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants.

The peach-colored “paper lanterns” are in fact the fruit of the golden rain tree. Each fruit is comprised of a three-valved capsule containing seeds that can germinate in just a few days. This high germination rate, coupled with an abundance of seeds, means that these trees can spread to unintended areas, potentially disrupting native plant communities along the way.

The seeds of the golden train tree are also exceptionally attractive to the jadera, or soap berry bug (Jadera haematoloma). Although these bugs are harmless to humans, they will gather in the thousands to feed upon seeds on the ground, producing a red stain when squashed.

Jadera bug nymphs. Photo courtesy of

What precisely constitutes a Category II invasive classification? According to the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council, these species have experienced a surge in abundance or occurrence, yet there is no direct evidence yet of them significantly altering Florida’s plant communities. Nevertheless, if they exhibit additional detrimental effects, they could be reclassified as Category I invasive. Given these invasive tendencies, numerous alternative tree options exist for your landscape that boast both visual appeal and ecological compatibility.

For more information on Florida-friendly or native tree alternatives for your landscape, be sure to check out the Florida Native Plant Society (FNPS) Plant Selection Guide, Florida-Friendly Landscaping Plant Selection Guide, and the Florida Association of Native Nurseries search tool to find the closest native plant nursery to you.


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Posted: November 6, 2023

Category: AGRICULTURE, Conservation, Florida-Friendly Landscaping, Forests, HOME LANDSCAPES, Horticulture, Invasive Species, Natural Resources, UF/IFAS, UF/IFAS, UF/IFAS Extension, UF/IFAS Extension, UF/IFAS Research, UF/IFAS Teaching
Tags: Florida-Friendly Landscaping, Invasive Ornamentals, Invasive Plants, Ornamentals, Residential Horticulture, UF/IFAS Extension Orange County

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