Characteristics of Japanese Pagoda Trees (Styphnolobium japonicum) in the Wild

Styphnolobium japonicum
The Japanese Pagoda Tree (Styphnolobium japonicum) is a plant species that originated in China and were introduced to Japan. The pagoda tree is popular in Europe, North America, and South Africa as an ornamental tree in public gardens and large yards, planted for its flowers.

One of the pagoda trees named The Guilty Chinese Scholartree is a historic pagoda tree in Beijing. This tree is where the last emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Chongzhen, hanged himself.

The pagoda tree is also one of the 50 basic herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine. The flowers and leaves are sometimes used for herbal teas, as has been done by people in Laosan Village, Shandong Province, China.

WARNING: Almost all parts of this tree are considered poisonous, especially the bark, fruit, and seeds. So, further knowledge is needed to process this plant as medicine.


Characteristics of Japanese Pagoda Leaf

Styphnolobium japonicum Leaf
Source: Tree Library

The leaves are in pairs, leaves up to 25 cm long, usually consisting of 7-17 leaves. The leaflets are ovate to lanceolate, 2.5-5 cm long, pointed, and with a wide base to round. The top of the leaves is shiny dark green, the underside of the leaves is bluish and hairy.


Characteristics of Japanese Pagoda Flower

Styphnolobium japonicum Flower
Source: Arboretum

The flowers are up to 30 cm long, hermaphrodites are zygomorphic with a length of 1-1.5 cm and are fivefold with a double flower sheath. The five petals are white or cream. The flowering period lasts from August to September.


Characteristics of Japanese Pagoda Fruit

Styphnolobium japonicum Fruit
Source: de Block

The fruit is 5-8 cm long, contains 1-6 seeds, which are separated by a narrowing. The seeds are yellowish-green and brownish-black when dried.


Characteristics of Japanese Pagoda Trees

Styphnolobium japonicum Tree

Japanese Pagoda trees can grow 20-25 meters tall with the same canopy width. This tree can be found in dry forests, with slightly acidic to very alkaline soils, sandy, gravel to loam, and nutrient-rich soils. The tree is very sensitive to moisture, it loves warmth, is mostly frost-resistant, and prefers a sunny location overshade.

Japanese Pagoda trees produce smooth, dark brown wood, which is very hard, and durable after drying. The wood is often used to make tool handles, especially in the traditional Japanese wooden ax, called a chouna. The large trunk of the pagoda tree used to make wood carvings, for example from the Ainu native to Hokkaido, is very decorative. The Ainu are famous for their “Blackstone fish owl” carvings.


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