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What is Laburnum?

Niki Acker
By
Updated May 21, 2024
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Laburnum is a genus with of two species of flowering tree in the pea family. Also called golden chain, plants in this genus feature abundant bright yellow flowers, and are popular garden plants as a result. They are also poisonous and potentially fatal if ingested, however, so children and pets should be supervised around the plant.

In addition to its beauty, golden chain is grown for its wood, which can be used for posts and fuel. It was also historically used to make bows. Native to the mountains of southern Europe, these trees are also called false ebony, as the timber of old trees can be used to simulate that of ebony. The heartwood of the tree is a rich yellow, while the sapwood is dark and very hard.

L. anagyroides, or common laburnum, can grow to 23 feet (7 meters) in height. The fragrant yellow flowers bloom in late spring, often in May. L. anagyroides has a smooth bark, and dark green leaves and branches. It prefers damp climates and mild temperatures.

L. alpinum, also called Alpine or Scottish laburnum, has longer flower stalks than L. anagyroides, but does not flower as densely. Most laburnums grown in the garden are a hybrid between L. alpinum and L. anagyroides, called Voss's laburnum, that combines the properties of both species. The hybrid also produces less seeds than either natural species.

All parts of laburnum are poisonous, causing symptoms such as convulsions, fatigue, vomiting or diarrhea, and even coma and death. The plant contains the poisonous alkaline cytisine. Many cultural references to the plant are a reference to its toxicity. For example, it is often mentioned in literature as a symbol of danger or death.

An Indian legend tells that the laburnum was once a non-flowering tree. The god Krishna appeared on earth in the form of a young boy, and gave his golden anklet to another boy whom he befriended. When the golden anklet on the statute of Krishna in the temple was found to be missing, the priests accused the boy of stealing it.

Though the boy claimed that the anklet had been a gift, no one believed him, since no one else had seen Krishna in his human form. The boy threw the anklet at a laburnum tree, which immediately burst into flower. The tree is now considered sacred to Krishna, and the common name golden chain references the flowers' resemblance to a golden anklet.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Laburnum tree and where can it be found?

Laburnum, also known as golden chain tree, is a genus of flowering plants in the family Fabaceae. It's native to Southern Europe and usually found in mountainous regions. The tree is renowned for its stunning cascades of yellow flowers that bloom in late spring, creating a vibrant display that's both eye-catching and fragrant.

Are Laburnum trees poisonous?

Yes, all parts of the Laburnum tree are highly toxic, especially the seeds. Ingesting any part of the plant can lead to symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and in severe cases, convulsions or coma. It's crucial to keep children and pets away from the tree, particularly during the autumn when seed pods are easily accessible.

How do you care for a Laburnum tree?

Laburnum trees thrive in well-drained soil and full sun to partial shade. They require minimal maintenance once established. Pruning should be done after flowering to maintain shape and remove any dead or diseased wood. Watering during dry spells and applying a general-purpose fertilizer in spring will help promote healthy growth and abundant flowering.

How long do Laburnum trees live?

Laburnum trees have a relatively short lifespan compared to other trees, typically living for around 20 to 30 years. They reach maturity quickly, which contributes to their shorter life cycle. However, with proper care and favorable conditions, some Laburnum trees can live longer and continue to grace gardens with their beauty.

Can Laburnum trees be used for woodworking?

While Laburnum wood is strong, hard, and durable, making it suitable for fine woodworking projects like cabinet-making and inlays, its toxicity must be considered. Woodworkers must take precautions to avoid inhaling dust or making direct skin contact. Despite these challenges, the wood's attractive dark hue and fine grain make it a prized material for specialty items.

When is the best time to plant a Laburnum tree?

The best time to plant a Laburnum tree is during the dormant season, from late autumn to early spring. This timing allows the tree to establish roots in the cool, moist soil before the stress of summer heat. Planting during this period promotes strong growth and ensures the tree is well-established to produce its signature golden blooms in spring.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Niki Acker
By Niki Acker , Writer
"In addition to her role as a AllThingsNature editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of interesting and unusual topics to gather ideas for her own articles. A graduate of UCLA with a double major in Linguistics and Anthropology, Niki's diverse academic background and curiosity make her well-suited to create engaging content for WiseGeekreaders. "

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Niki Acker

Niki Acker

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"In addition to her role as a AllThingsNature editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range...
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