Ajuntament de Barcelona

Styphnolobium japonicum

Hortes de Sant Bertran and Forestier's stairs

    Catalan name: 
    Acàcia del Japó
    Spanish name: 
    Acacia del Japón
    English name: 
    Japanese pagoda tree
    Botanical synonyms: 
    Sophora korolkowii, Sophora sinensis, Sophora japonica
    Species characteristics
    China and Korea
    Temperate continental forests

    Deciduous tree 15-25 m tall, although usually it is shorter, with brown clefted bark, greyish when adult, and crown 4-8 m wide, which gives a rounded look.

    The leaves, 12-25 cm long, are alternate and compound. They have 9-17oval leaflets 2.5-5 cm, that are bright dark green on the upper side and whitish green on the lower side, which is covered by hair. The leaves remain green until they fall, in autumn.

    The hermaphrodite papilionaceous cream flowers appear intoterminal panicles 25 cm long.

    The fruit is a fleshy cylindrical pod, 6 cm long; its colour goes from greenish to brown depending on the maturation grade.

    Flowering time: 
    Fruiting time: 
    Uses and properties: 

    All parts of the Japanese Pagoda Tree have a laxative principle, as it's the case with the fallen leaves, that turn water into laxative when landing on ponds.

    Its wood, in a yellow tone, light and easy to work and polish, doesn't usually worm, so it's widely used in cabinet making, but not in construction, since it combs with humidity.

    In the Far East, flowers, fruits, bark and leaves have been traditionally used to obtain yellow dye, what was used in Japan for the Emperor clothes.

    Fast growing and with a high life span, the Japanese Pagoda Tree is resilient to cold weather and drought. Some samples have a pendular branching and the cultivar, created by Vivers Dot at Vilafranca del Penedès, can present curling branches and leaves.

    History and curiosities: 

    One of the scientific names of the pagoda tree, Sophora japonica, comes from the Arabic sofera, "yellowish", and from the Latin japonica, "Japanese", with reference to the place where the European found the tree for the first time. Despite its scientific, and vernacular, name, this tree is not indigenous from Japan, where it was introduced from China.

    In 1747 it was brought to Europe thanks to Bernard de Jussieu, a French doctor and botanist in charge of the botanical garden of the Trianon (Versailles). From France it went to the United Kingdom, where it was introduced by James Gordon in 1753 and to Spain, also in the 18th c.

    Since ancient times, both in China and in Japan, it is planted near temples and cemeteries. It is a very late blooming tree, because it can take thirty years to have the first flowers.

    For further information: 

    LÓPEZ GONZÁLEZ, Ginés A. Los árboles y arbustos de la Península Ibérica e Islas Baleares. (2 vol.) Madrid: Mundi-Prensa, 2001

    THE ROYAL HORTICULTURAL SOCIETY. Enciclopedia de plantas y flores. Barcelona: Grijalbo, 1996