Cladrastis kentuckea

American Yellowwood




  • relatively small portions of the southeastern United States; scattered and not common throughout range
  • hardy to zone 4

Habit and Form

  • a deciduous medium-sized tree
  • develops a broad, rounded crown
  • branches are upright and spreading
  • has a short main trunk with major branches starting within 6' of the ground

Summer Foliage

  • alternate, pinnately compound leaves
  • 7 to 9 leaflets per leaf
  • leaves 8" to 12" long
  • leaflets are 2" to 3" long
  • leaflets are elliptic to ovate
  • terminal leaflet is the largest
  • leaf color is bright green, almost with a tinge of blue

Autumn Foliage

  • soft mix of yellow, gold and orange
  • showy on most trees


  • white, pea-like flowers
  • fragrant
  • in 10" to 16" long clusters
  • bloom time is early June
  • resembles wisteria flowers
  • blooms heavily every 2 or 3 years


  • a flattened pod
  • 2.5" to 4" long
  • green pods turn brown in October


  • smooth light gray
  • quite attractive
  • name yellowwood comes from the yellow heartwood


  • full sun
  • likes moist, fertile, well-drained soils
  • not too particular about pH
  • prune in summer to avoid "bleeding" that occurs in winter and spring
  • protect from winter sun and wind

Landscape Uses

  • lawn tree
  • specimen
  • for flowers and foliage
  • for attractive winter bark
  • for attractive fall foliage


  • "bleeds when pruned at most times
  • narrow branch angles make the tree prone to splitting
  • getting consistent annual bloom can be challenging
  • bark is susceptible to sun scaled
  • late spring frosts damage new growth

ID Features

  • has naked buds
  • base of petiole covers the bud
  • smooth gray bark
  • pinnately compound leaves with large leaflets
  • fruit pod is somewhat persistent
  • bud is hairy
  • short main trunk
  • upright and spreading branches in almost a vase-shape
  • wisteria-like chains of flowers


  • by seed


'Rosea' (also known as 'Perkin's Pink') - A special, rare pink-flowered form found in Watertown, MA and offered by numerous specialty nurseries. A new twist on a wonderful native tree.

© Copyright Mark H. Brand, 1997-2015.

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Citation and Acknowledgements: University of Connecticut Plant Database,, Mark H. Brand, Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, Storrs, CT 06269-4067 USA.