The Society of Municipal Arborists (SMA), comprised of 1400 urban forestry professionals worldwide, has chosen goldenraintree (Koelreuteria paniculata) as its 2011 Urban Tree of the Year. The selection must be adaptable to a variety of harsh growing conditions and have strong ornamental traits. The program has been running for sixteen years, and past honorees include redbud (2010), Chinkapin oak (2009), black tupelo (2008), baldcypress (2007), and Kentucky coffeetree (2006).
Goldenraintree, hardy to USDA Zone 4, is praised by city foresters for its toughness and beauty. Milwaukee, Wisconsin Forestry Services Manager David Sivyer says,
“Goldenraintree is very drought tolerant once established and well suited to urban soil conditions including pH extremes (4.5-8.0), coarse to fine texture, and compacted soils with low organic content and fertility. It is also reasonably free of insects and diseases and requires little pruning to maintain a uniform crown symmetry and safe branch structure.”
And Upper Arlington, Ohio Superintendent of Parks & Forestry Steve Cothrel says, “Koelreuteria paniculata has been an adaptable medium-sized tree for us. Its eye-catching bright yellow flowers usually peak here in late June and early July. Thus, it’s no coincidence that we lined the July 4th parade route with goldenraintrees some years ago. They now provide a spectacular setting for the annual parade.” The tree is also praised for rich green summer foliage, interesting reddish-brown seedpods, and striking yellow or orange to red fall color.
The tough and beautiful goldenraintree can be expected to mature at roughly 30 feet (9.14 m) tall by 30 feet wide. The SMA recognizes Koelreuteria paniculata for its service to urban forests and encourages its use when matched appropriately to site and as part of a diverse urban tree inventory.
Note: Goldenraintree does produce large amounts of seed which can be a little messy. It has been accused of being invasive for this reason as well. However, while I have seen volunteer goldenraintrees from time to time, I have never seen the tree seed locally in a way which would make it problematic. Goldenraintree is native to China. I viewed and photographed goldenraintrees along the Great Wall of China at Badaling in July 2005.