Worst Tree I Ever Planted

August 20, 2009 | By | Comments (33)

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.

GR tree

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!!!!!

Photo_31_hires

VA-VA-VA-VOOM!

Photo_11_hires
VA-VA-KA-BOOM!

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?

COMMENTS

  1. Chinese flame trees bring fall color to Elysian Heights | Eastsider LA | Hometown Pasadena |

    […] ELYSIAN HEIGHTS — You know autumn has arrived when the Chinese flame trees on the north end of Echo Park Avenue become filled with salmon-colored seed pods.  While the trees put on a colorful show, some folks are not thrilled when those papery pods fall to the ground, spreading seeds and creating the potential for a new Chinese Flame forest. […]

    October 19, 2014 at 2:21 am
  2. Katie

    As long as people don’t get the Chinese Flame tree confused with the Golden Rain Tree. I have 4 Golden Rain Trees and have never had a problem. Cut off suckers will propagate easily if you WANT more trees.

    October 8, 2014 at 10:43 am
  3. Steve Bender

    Randall & Steph,

    I am going to give you a very politically incorrect, yet very effect way to eliminate these awful trees. It involves a small chisel and some Roundup. Near the base of the tree, use the chisel to cut three, equally spaced, horizontal slits in the outer bark around the trunk. Insert the chisel vertically into each slit for about 4 inches to gently lift the bark off of the wood. Take out the chisel and pour about a tablespoon of undiluted Roundup into each slit. The tree will die in two weeks.

    August 11, 2014 at 10:01 am
  4. Randall

    How do you kill these things? They don’t respond well to sodium mbs; I am thinking about hot acid at this point.

    August 8, 2014 at 5:39 pm
  5. steph h

    We just bought a house 6 months ago,and we have 7 flame trees, 1 in the front yard and 6 in the back, and I have never wanted to hack a tree down in my life, until now. I have never worked so hard keeping a yard clean, and you were not kidding, I have hundreds of seeds that have sprouted, and would take over our house. The pods are also big and brown and everywhere. Your article made me laugh out loud, thanks. People, take his advice, steer clear, way better shade trees out there, with little to no hassle.

    June 13, 2014 at 1:42 am
  6. Steve Bender

    Tree Geek,
    I fear the pod people.

    October 29, 2012 at 4:34 am
  7. Not everyone is a fan of fall color around the Silver Lake Reservoir | Eastsider LA | Hometown Pasadena |

    [...] What kind of tree is it? Looks to be a Chinese Flame Tree, which can be colorful but have also been the subject of  blog posts titled “Worst Tree I Have Ever Planted.” [...]

    October 22, 2012 at 4:40 pm
  8. Tree geek

    The pods bring happiness. We love the pods. Someday you will love the pods. You’ll be one of us.

    October 11, 2012 at 2:23 pm
  9. Steve Bender

    Gigi,

    There’s a big difference between the maintenance required for a well-behaved, normal tree and one that is very invasive and spreads its seedlings by the thousands all over the neighborhood. And I’m not even sure we’re talking about the same species. Goldenrain tree (Koelruteria paniculata), a similar looking cousin, is much more commonly planted than the tree in my post and is not terribly weedy.

    August 3, 2012 at 9:54 am
  10. GiGi

    Wow, Unbelieveable that you would think there is no care after planting a tree – bush or any plant…or flower. Tell me what plant does not require some attention? I think the Grumpy people should go all plastic! There is a location in Calif where they lined both sides of the street and the center. It is beautiful and many many people come from all over just to see these beautiful trees. They must have over 100 trees. It’s a beautiful tree!

    August 2, 2012 at 10:31 am
  11. Jacie

    We recently moved into a home, and I just found out what type of tree it is. Glad I’m not the only one with a yard full of saplings. Unfortunately, our purchase was going through when this tree was loosing its pods. I took possession of a house and about 300 lbs of yard waste. I am STILL raking up leaves, as I try navigate around these…well, weeds.
    I love the shade, and she’s terribly pretty, but these saplings require constant vigilance before they get too deep and woody to pull (which doesn’t take very long).

    May 27, 2012 at 1:19 am
  12. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    Tristan,
    I would never plant this tree again, no matter where. A billion seedlings will come up and it will take over.

    May 4, 2012 at 1:35 pm
  13. Tristan

    I live in a manufactured home park and I think these would do better than the trash trees we have now. I have typically in my yard a couple hours everyday and on my days off, all day. Are these trees seriously as bad as people are describing? or are these people who are weekend gardeners?

    May 2, 2012 at 12:54 am
  14. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    I wonder how your neighbors feel about hundreds of seedlings coming up in their yards.

    April 16, 2012 at 10:34 am
  15. FloridaGurl

    I dug up a sapling 3 years ago from a local park and planted it in our backyard…it’s now 9′ tall and produced pods this last fall. I personally LOVE this tree and don’t mind pulling up seedligs because I don’t want a forrest but this one tree is stunning and the filtered light is wonderful! :-)

    April 10, 2012 at 10:39 pm
  16. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Well, all I can tell you is that it produces about a million seedlings every year. So if you love the tree, you’ll just have to contend with pulling seedlings.

    May 6, 2011 at 3:35 pm
  17. Johnny Appleseed

    We live in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

    May 6, 2011 at 11:12 am
  18. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Where do you live?

    April 30, 2011 at 8:39 am
  19. Johnny Appleseed

    There is a flame tree or golden raintree in our neighborhood and it is magnificent! It is just a wonderful looking tree. So, if this is a bad selection, what do you suggest?

    April 27, 2011 at 10:21 am
  20. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    It won’t take long, believe me. I’m glad you love trees, because after you plant this one, you will have hundreds.

    November 19, 2010 at 7:46 am
  21. TreeLover65

    I am having one planted in my front yard very soon! The city will do it and I can’t wait. There are several on our street and they are beautiful trees! I’m only bummed that it will take years for it to grow into a beautiful shade tree.

    November 17, 2010 at 2:23 pm
  22. alexei

    Two big gripes: Nandina and Mexican Petunia.
    Nandina is not only spread by birds eating the seeds but also stealthily underground with great long roots.]
    The petunia is invasive beyond belief and opportunistic, it turns up everywhere.

    September 25, 2009 at 10:53 am
  23. pat

    Mimosa….I have about 10 bizillion sprouts in my yard; they basically make up my lawn. You can pull them by the hour but there will be a new bizillion by tomorrow. And there isn’t a mimosa tree in sight. I secretly want them to sprout up in my neighbors yard though.

    September 23, 2009 at 6:42 pm
  24. Mary W

    Morning Glory. It self seeds and sends stealth vines…everywhere. I’ve literally gone up to people at nurseries and warned them off.

    September 23, 2009 at 5:51 pm
  25. psbeckham

    I second the Chinese tallow tree! I was suckered in by the lovely “popcorn” wreaths that vendors sell at the market in Charleston. Oh…I enjoyed that “popcorn” for the first year or two but then seedlings starting showing up everywhere. The original tree’s been gone for years but not the progeny keep showing up!

    August 30, 2009 at 3:51 pm
  26. Carol

    Thanks for the heads up on this tree. All trees are messy, but so many are worth the clean up work, like Magnolias…but I curse my neighbor and her proliferating Redbuds…now I might feel differently if they were Forest Pansy Redbuds..

    August 26, 2009 at 10:31 am
  27. Grumpy Gardener aka His Excellency

    Scott, as soon as you see the yellow flowers fall, prune off the bloom stalks. If you let the seed pods form, I guarantee you a swarm of little trees the next year.

    August 23, 2009 at 3:43 pm
  28. Scott

    Loved the Terminator comparison! Is there any way to prune the seed pods before they burst?

    August 23, 2009 at 10:51 am
  29. Jean

    Well at least your neighbor loves you for now! Got a chainsaw?

    August 23, 2009 at 8:22 am
  30. Jim Long

    As a past nurseryman, it always baffled me when customers wanted trees with, “no mess.” No leaves to rake, not seed to fall, no fruit to dispose of. I always suggested they get plastic ones. Every tree has something…elm and maple have seeds that sprout and roots atop the ground, etc. Ya gotta take the good with the bad in nature, or suck up and buy a plastic palm tree. I can recommend a good company. Happy gardening and keep up the grumpiness. :-)

    August 22, 2009 at 11:32 am
  31. cheryl

    Mimosa, obviously.
    The Bunya-Bunya (araucaria bidwillii). It is not only ickery-stickery but it drops 12# (and heavier) bombs from its highest elevations. And THEY sprout all over too.
    Plum trees. Arghhhhhh!!!!

    August 21, 2009 at 11:53 pm
  32. Helen Yoest @ Gardening With Confidence

    That’s what you get by being drawn in by a pretty face…and all her dangely things.
    H.

    August 20, 2009 at 5:57 pm
  33. Fred

    Mimosa, Chinese Tallow are my avowed enemy. Moved away from one, cut the other down but still dealing with the progeny (and expect to in perpetuity)of the other.

    August 20, 2009 at 12:57 pm

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