That tree I saw at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia shore was pretty — spectacular sprays of yellow blooms and pretty bright pink seed pods. Koelruteria bipinnata, the sign below it said. Chinese flame tree. So I planted one in my front yard. Baby, I got burned.
A relative of the more widely planted goldenrain tree (Koelruteria paniculata), Chinese flame tree (aka bougainvillea goldenrain tree — say that 10 times fast) has a lot going for it. It grows fast; produces filtered shade you can grow grass under; tolerates drought, poor soil, and pollution; suffers no serious pests; and becomes a nice, rounded, medium-size tree, 20-40 feet tall. It’s also one of the few trees that blooms in summer (mine’s blooming now) and produces attractive, pink seed capsules that resemble the blooms of bougainvillea. So what’s not to like?
Well, those seed capsules contain seeds. During fall and winter, the papery capsules blow everywhere, bringing the seeds in contact with soil. Every time this happens, every single seed germinates. Let all of them grow and in a couple of years, your entire yard literally becomes a forest of Chinese flame trees.
I find seedlings on every side of my house – in the lawn, garden beds, and edges of the woods. None are anywhere near the original tree.
So why don’t I just cut mine down and be done with it? Because it wouldn’t make any difference. See, one of those seedlings sprouted on the corner of my next-door neighbor’s house. It’s now about 20 feet tall. She loves it. So even if I cut my tree down, there’d be as many seedlings as before.
I feel like a eco-terrorist, like the first remorseless clown who sicced Japanese honeysuckle, privet, water hyacinths, dandelions, and crabgrass on America. Long after I am gone, people in Alabama will point to the 12 Chinese flame trees that just sprouted in their petunias and curse my name.”It was Bender!”
DON’T PLANT CHINESE FLAME TREE, NO MATTER HOW PRETTY IT LOOKS! Remember that beautiful female terminator in“Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines”? She turned guys on, then literally ripped out their hearts. Learn from this!!!!!
OK, I’ve done my civic duty and warned you about the dangers of this barbaric tree. What other plants should I warn the faithful citizens of Grumpiana not to plant?