Sophora japonica L.

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Article from Bean's Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles

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'Sophora japonica' from the website Trees and Shrubs Online ( Accessed 2024-02-24.



Lying flat against an object.
(pl. calyces) Outer whorl of the perianth. Composed of several sepals.
Lacking hairs smooth. glabrescent Becoming hairless.
Egg-shaped; broadest towards the stem.
Odd-pinnate; (of a compound leaf) with a central rachis and an uneven number of leaflets due to the presence of a terminal leaflet. (Cf. paripinnate.)


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Article from Bean's Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles

Recommended citation
'Sophora japonica' from the website Trees and Shrubs Online ( Accessed 2024-02-24.

A deciduous tree, 50 to 80 ft high, of rounded habit and branching low down when growing in the open, but capable of forming a tall clean trunk when close planted. Bark downy when young, glabrous later and dark greenish brown; on old trunks it is grey, and corrugated rather like an ash. Leaves rich green, pinnate, 6 to 10 in. long, composed of nine to fifteen leaflets, which are ovate or oval, 1 to 2 in. long, half as wide, covered with small appressed hairs beneath. Flowers in terminal panicles 6 to 10 in. long and wide, creamy white, each about 12 in. long; calyx 18 in. long, bell-shaped, green, shallowly toothed. Pods 2 to 312 in. long, glabrous, one- to six-seeded; rarely seen in Britain.

Native of China (not of Japan); introduced to France in 1747 and thence to England in 1753. It is one of the most beautiful of all leguminous trees, although it does not flower in a young state – not commencing until thirty to forty years of age. Old trees flower freely, especially after hot summers. The blossoms are not developed until September, and in wet cold summers do not develop at all. They do not fade on the tree, but drop off quite fresh, making the ground white beneath. On the continent of Europe, thanks to the warmer summers, it attains a larger size than with us, and frequently ripens seeds, which are the best means of increase. All parts of the plant, even the wood, contain a purgative principle said to be so potent that turners working on the green wood are immediately afflicted by colic, and that well-water becomes laxative if the leaves fall into it in autumn.

The largest specimen of S. japonica recorded recently grows at Syon Park, London; it measures 76 × 1514 ft at 4 ft (1967). Others are: University Parks, Oxford, 59 × 914 ft (1975); Aldenham House, Herts, 60 × 614 ft (1976); Angelsey Abbey, Cambs., 48 × 534 ft (1973); Penrhyn Castle, Bangor, 44 × 612 ft (1974). The decrepit tree at Kew in G.15 was planted soon after the introduction of the species and is kept for its historical interest.

From the Supplement (Vol. V)

specimens: Syon House, London, in Wilderness near river, 88 × 1614 ft at 4 ft (1982); University Parks, Oxford, 55 × 912 ft (1981); Angelsey Abbey, Cambs., pl. 1929, 60 × 714 ft (1984); Linton Park, Kent, 85 × 834 ft (1984); Nymans, Sussex, Magnolia Garden, 46 × 1114 ft at 2 ft (1983); Kingsmere, Shawford, Hants, 75 × 914 ft (1977); Jephson Gardens, Leamington Spa, Warwicks., 45 × 9 ft (1981); Bath Botanic Garden, 38 × 4 ft (1978).


A very picturesque weeping tree with stiff, drooping branches. It should be grafted on stocks of the ordinary form 10 to 15 ft high. An admirable lawn tree, or for forming a natural arbour. It was distributed by Loddiges early in the 19th century, but whence he obtained it is unknown. Other pendulous forms are cultivated on the continent and may have originated there. Several were found among seedlings of a single sowing made at Paris in 1857 (Rev. Hort., 1861, p. 85).

var. pubescens (Tausch) Bosse

S. pubescens Tausch
S. korolkowii Dieck ex Koehne
S. japonica var. korolkowii Zab. ex Henry

Once known in gardens as S. Korolkowi, this is no doubt a distinct variety of S. japonica. The most notable tree of the name grew in the famous Arboretum at Segrez, in France. I saw this tree in July 1904, and it was then covered with panicles of unexpanded flowers. When open they are described as dull white. The leaflets are longer than in S. japonica (fully 3 in.), but narrower in proportion; they are covered beneath with a very minute, close down. The young wood too is more downy, and of a lighter colour.


Leaves margined with creamy white, but of little value.


This was introduced from China to the Jardin des Plantes at Paris about 1858. Its flowers, which appear later than those of the normal form have the wing-petals and keel stained with rose-violet (S. japonica violacea Carr.; S. violacea Hort. ex Koehne). It has been cultivated at Kew for many years, but usually sets its flower-buds too late in the season to make a display. Except in colour it does not differ materially from the type. According to Henry the flowers of S. japonica, as he saw them in China, vary a good deal in colour, some forms being white, others yellow.