Friday 23 March 2018

The golden chain tree with dangling flowers


Laburnum is splendid this year. Following on a list of flowering trees and shrubs, such as cherries, magnolias and forsythia, laburnum has benefited from the sunny summer last year to make a record number of flower buds that have now opened. Isolated trees are best because they received a full share of sunlight. Laburnums crowded by other trees have not flowered so well.

Also known sometimes as golden chain tree, because of the way its flowers are held on drooping flower stems, laburnum is an old favourite and has been grown in gardens for hundreds of years. As a young tree it is a fast grower, but often frustratingly slow to flower. Typically, the young tree first makes its branches and gains some height and then commences flowering readily.

Its bright yellow flowers appear at the end of May and early June and they are typical pea-family flowers, it being part of the pea family, along with broom which also flowers in early summer. Old trees often have a lot of character and may lean to one side.

The yellow colour of laburnum flowers is a delightful complement for the fresh new green of early summer, and if there are a few bluebells about, so much more so. It is a good tree for sunshine, or light shade, although flowering is reduced. But in partial shade, the tree grows lighter limbs and develops in a more graceful, pendulous way.

Laburnum, like other pea family trees and shrubs, has the ability to fix nitrogen nutrient from the atmosphere in partnership with soil bacteria, and this gives these plants a major advantage in growing in poor, dry soil. Dry soil is open to air, which the bacteria need. By contrast, laburnum suffers when planted in heavy or wet soil. Failure of laburnum trees is common due to winter water-logging of the roots in heavy soil.

Snails love to eat laburnum leaves, and this often causes problems for young trees;, the snails sometimes climbing the tree stem to feed on the leaves. Although snails are not affected, laburnum is poisonous in all its parts, including seeds. The most common cases of poisoning are young children getting ill after chewing the small pods or seeds, which resemble small pea pods. The fallen seed pods should be removed if there are small children about.

Although there is a need for caution, there are many thousands of laburnum trees in gardens and parks, and even roadside hedges where they sometimes self-sow, and they generally cause no problems, just much pleasure for those who see them.

Sunday Independent

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