Japanese Pagoda Tree (Scholar Tree)

Basic Information
Tree ID: 
Genus and species: 
Despite its name, this magnificent tree hails originally from China, but was likely planted around early Japanese Buddhist temples. It proudly overlooks the Yale Farm, and its spreading canopy provides a lovely patch of shade in the summer for student farm interns to eat lunch and nap under. It is an "urban-tough" tree, highly recommended for city street planting because it can tolerate the heat and pollution of summer air in a bustling city like New Haven. Careful; the base of its trunk is guarded by a thorny shrub that eagerly tore holes in its surveyor's pants as she took its DBH.
Justine Appel
Collected Data
Tree shape: 
Medium-sized with rounded crown of spreading branches
Date of tree entry: 
17.37 m
Diameter at breast height: 
1.41 m

The bark of the trunk has interlacing ridges that are deeply furrowed into scaly ridges, becoming light brown as the tree matures. The branches are yellow-green and more lightly furrowed, but appear as though they are striated.
Twigs & branches
The branches droop as the tree grows, and sometimes require pruning both to promote a strong structure and allow for pedestrian clearance beneath the canopy. The wood is relatively weak, and the branches are prone to storm damage with their increasing age and weight. The twigs are green and medium-to-thin in thickness. The ends of this tree's twigs fan out into fine bristles. As you can see, the pagoda tree's growth habit is very rounded, resulting from the loss of the central leader at an early age.
Pinnately compound. 5-11" (13-28 cm) long; 7-17 leaflets. Leaflet: 1-2" (2.5-5 cm) long, usually ovate, with pointed tip and rounded base; margins untoothed. Pinnate venation. Dark green above; paler beneath. In the fall, the leaves stay green for a while, then turn yellow. They have an odd odor when crushed.
Reproductive Structures
The fragrant and very showy, greenish- white to yellow flowers are produced in mid to late summer and provide an airy feel to the tree for several weeks. The flowers are typically 1/2" long and pea-shaped, with five unequal petals. They are pollinated by bees, and lucky for this pagoda tree, there are two beehives nearby! A yellow dye can be made by boiling the dried flowers and buds in water.
The fruit of the pagoda tree is a yellowish bean-shaped pod, narrow between seeds like a string of beads. The fruits mature in autumn, and often continue to hang down in the winter. Each pod produces between 1 and 6 brown beanlike seeds. The fruits do not attract much wildlife, and along with the twigs and foliage, cause significant litter.
  • Autumn
  • Winter
  • Spring
  • Summer
Natural range of distribution: 
In the United States, it is most often found in humid temperate regions. It prefers moist, well-drained sandy loams of average fertility, but is very urban tolerant (especially to heat, drought, pollution, compacted soils, and poor soils). It has a rapid growth rate, but newly planted saplings may not flower for as long as the first 10 years.
Origin, history, and uses: 

Since it has been introduced in North America in 1747, this ornamental tree has been a popular choice for park plantings, parking lot plantings, as a street tree in cities, since its spreading canopy provides much shade. It performs best in a sunny, open location, and provides flowers late into the summer, long after other trees have stopped flowering. As mentioned above, it is an urban-tough tree. The dried flowers and buds of the pagoda tree are used as a medicinal herb in China, Japan and Korea to treat bleeding hemorrhoids and hematemesis. This tree is also a source of rutin, an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant chemical. 

The pagoda tree is one of the official trees of Beijing, China and is part of some significant Chinese legends. It was used as a grave-marker for Buddhist monks, though the tree generally carries a negative connotation in Chinese folklore. It was thought to be inhabited by demons, and 1644 AD, Emperor Chongzhen, the last emperor of the Ming Dynasty, is said to have hanged himself from a pagoda, as his palace was overtaken by peasants during a revolution.

The flower bloom in late July to August, and the fruits mature in October, their pods persisting into the winter.
Other information of interest: 

The Japanese pagoda tree has few known pests, but one is the potato leafhopper, which kills young stems causing profuse branching or witches broom on small branches. It usually is not a problem on larger trees. 

Check out this photo archive of Japanese pagoda trees for some beautiful pictures. 

Media and Arts

Tree Memory (A Series of Haikus)

By Justine Appel


Once I ate pizza

(with sage, garlic, and eggplant)

beneath this Pagoda


A peaceful lunch; I

didn’t sense any demons

Only perched robins.


This place is surely

A temple, the late summer

flowers, sweet and still


It bears the heat, the

noise from I-95, the car exhaust,

and gives me shade.


Here is all I need

Sun, damp grass, roasted sage, and

this Pagoda Tree.




Pagoda Tree
By Mila D. Aguilar

The pagoda tree,

as they call it in English,
is our calachuchi,
the same name we give
to mistresses.

But how strange the name sounds.
Pagoda tree, I mean.
Towards the summer solstice,
It sheds its leaves

A body made up of so many arms
Dancing their way to the skies
Their fingers growing
The purest freshest flowers

This even in its old age.
I have seen it at 50 or so
Joints already gnarled
By so much twisting
Still offering its flowers
With the daintiest of fingers.

Without sacrificing the grass.
Other plants could be grown
Below it
Because its leaves don’t take
All the sun
And its roots not too much
Of land and water either.

Cut a branch and let it stand
On an inch of soil, then see
New roots grow
Out of the salved wound
Once dried up,
As long as a month after.
Its moisture keeps.

Yet for all that
It’s not a pagoda tree to me.
It’s still my lovely calachuchi.

March 16, 2005