Scholar Tree – Sophora japonica

Scholar Tree – Sophora japonica
Family: Fabaceae (Leguminosae)

Also commonly called pagoda tree or Japanese pagoda tree. USDA hardiness zones: 5 through 8A [3]

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Scholar Tree - Sophora japonica

Sophora species grows to a height of 40 to 60 feet and spread of 30 to 45 feet, forming a fine-textured, round canopy even as a young tree. It has a rapid growth rate and tolerates polluted city conditions, heat, and drought. The tree prefers a sunny, open location on any light soil. The very showy, greenishwhite to yellow flowers are produced in mid to late summer and provide an airy feel to the tree for several weeks. A yellow dye can be made by boiling the dried flowers and buds in water. The young green twigs turn a dark grey with age. The species tree must be at least 10-years-old to bloom, but the cultivar ‘Regent’ blooms at six to eight-years-old. [1]

Leaves alternate, pinnately compound. Leaflet ovate, margin entire, pinnate venation [2]

"Showy summer flowers are white to yellow. Fruit is an elongated pod, winter persistent and does not create a litter problem. Does not attract wildlife. Grows best in full sun, in well-drained soil, drought tolerant in reasonable soil. Tolerates clay; loam; sand; acidic; occasionally wet; alkaline.

The tree drops flower petals creating a creamy white carpet for several weeks on the ground, but they can temporarily stain sidewalks. The yellow fruit pods form in late summer and are quite showy, dropping later in the winter and could be a nuisance to some people. But they are small and fairly easily washed away. The leaflets are small, creating light shade beneath the tree and are mostly washed away with rain or fall into shrub beds or between the grass blades.

Some trees come from the nursery with multiple trunks or branches clustered together at one spot on the trunk. Buy those with one central trunk growing up the center of the tree or prune the tree to a central leader to create a strong, durable structure. Space branches along the central leader to ensure good branch attachment. It may take several prunings to train the tree to the proper form. This urban-tough tree is highly recommended for urban street tree planting. Also makes a nice mediumsized patio tree and is well-suited for parking lot planting, creating shade from its spreading canopy. It is adapted to soil spaces, and tolerates drought in reasonable soil and is tolerant of salt spray.

Scholar Tree Bark

Best when planted in full sun and well-drained, not wet, soil. Sophora species has a few cultivars: ‘Fastigiata’ – upright habit; ‘Pendula’ – weeping habit; ‘Princeton Upright’ – upright form suitable for narrow sites, somewhat smaller than the species; ‘Regent’ – oval crown and blooms at an early age, has glossy leaves which shed soot and dirt, readily available in nurseries.

Potato leafhopper kills young stems causing profuse branching or witches broom on small branches. It usually is not a problem on larger trees.

Occasionally, Scholar Tree will get a fungus canker about two-inches or less across, have raised reddish brown margins and light brown centers. The infected stem is killed when the fungus girdles the stem. Another fungus is sometimes found on dead branches on Sophora species. Frost injury may give both fungi an entrance into the tree. Twig blight or dieback can be a problem occasionally. Prune out infected branches and avoid unnecessary wounding. Keep trees vigorous by regular fertilization.

Powdery mildew forms a fungus mat white coating on the leaves. The disease is usually not serious. [1]

Scholar Tree Foliage

1. Edward F. Gilman and Dennis G. Watson, USDA, U.S. Forest Service Fact Sheet ST-592, October 1994
2. Colin Tudge, The Tree: A Natural History of What Trees Are, How They Live, and Why They Matter.
3.  NATIONAL AUDUBON SOCIETY, National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees

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Family: Fabaceae (Leguminosae)
The Fabaceae, or legumes, are mostly herbs but include also shrubs and trees found in both temperate and tropical areas. They comprise one of the largest families of flowering plants, numbering some 400 genera and 10,000 species. Peanuts, beans, peas, wisteria and locust trees are among the family.
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