October 6, 2009 | Panayoti Kelaidis, Senior Curator & Director of Outreach
Golden Rain Tree
Golden Rain Tree
              October is the month when trees take center stage. This year especially, the fall color promises to be spectacular. Surely the Golden Rain Tree (Koelreuteria paniculata) is one of the most glorious trees right now around Denver. Warning! Don't try pronouncing its Latin name without downing at least two whiskeys!
              The picture above was taken in early August of the State Champion tree that grows in the courtyard just east of the entrance to the Education building at Denver Botanic Gardens: aren't the flowers spectacular? Two months later they transform into the fabulous chinese lantern seedpods pictured below. This compact Chinese gem is best grown in hot exposures: it is especially good in xeriscapes and on the south side of buildings where its steppe ancestry demonstrates its steely constitution. Too much water or shade can make the branches grow too quickly and be susceptible to breakage in heavy snowstorms--especially early snows when the leaves are still on it. This is one tree I'd like to see a lot more of in Denver gardens! It belongs to an extremely variable, mostly subtropical Soapberry family (Sapindaceae) which barely extends into Colorado with our native Sapindus drummondii in Baca County. Come to think of it, our specimen of that tree is looking pretty spiffy right now in the Plains Garden: wonders never cease! I only know of that one native soapberry growing in Colorado gardens, but there are a dozen or more golden rain trees on my commute from home to work: they are all a blaze of yellow color, with the exquisite copper seedheads glinting in the sun. When the yellow flowers fall in August, it rains. Now the golden leaves are beginning to rain, and finally the seedpods. A surfeit of gold! Robert Frost was speaking of the early, chartreuse sheen of gold when plants first emerge in spring, but this poem also speaks to the glorious brassy gold of fall:
Nature's first green is gold.
Her hardest hue to hold,
Her early leaf's a flower,
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf
So Eden sank to grief.
So dawn goes down to day,
For nothing gold can stay.
                                        Robert Frost

Golden rain tree seedpods

Golden rain tree seedpods


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