Golden Chain Tree

            When looking for a small tree that will add beauty and interest to a landscape, the golden chain tree might seem to be the perfect choice.  However, there are some important facts to know about the tree before making the decision to add it to your lawn.

            The scientific name for the lovely small tree is laburnum anagyroides.  It is a rather ordinary looking tree when not in bloom, but when the flowers appear, the tree transforms into a vision of loveliness.  The blooms will last for around 10 to 12 days, during which time the clusters of yellow flowers which are displayed dramatically, suspended in wisteria fashion giving the tree the appearance of dripping with golden chains.  Some of the cascading blooms can extend downward up to 24 inches long.  The tree also features olive green bark on the trunk which can provide interest against winter white snow, and foliage in the summer that is beautifully bright green.

            Achieving a height anywhere between 15 to 30 feet, the Golden Chain is considered in the small tree category.  It develops a vase like shape as it grows, with an ultimate spread almost as wide as it is tall.  The tree does best in USDA zones 5 through 7, but does not do well in warmer temperatures.  Amazingly, the tree is actually a member of the pea family, and produces pods approximately 3 inches in length that are likened to the vegetable in appearance.  This variety grows quickly to achieve its maximum height, but is not a long lived specimen in the landscape, as it lasts only around 20 years.

            Although the Golden Chain tree is a sight to behold during bloom time, and the foliage spread provides great shade, some considerations need to be made before adding the tree to your landscape.  An important aspect of the tree that should be considered is in its physical makeup.  Every part of the tree contains a substance called cytisine, which is a toxic alkaloid if taken internally.  With the association between the tree and the pea family, the seeds of the tree have a similar appearance to a pea.  A small child or animal could easily confuse the seed with a familiar vegetable they enjoy, and as result be poisoned after eating the seed.  Wildlife are not naturally attracted to the tree at all because of its poisonous aspects, which can be a benefit for having the tree in the landscape, knowing it will be quite undisturbed by animals.  Eating the plant in any form; flowers, twigs or seeds can prove to be fatal, so it is extremely important to consider these flaws in the otherwise beautiful tree before planting.

            If any pruning of the tree is needed, it would be advisable to wear long sleeves and protective gloves.  Contact with the plant could cause some skin irritation or a possible allergic reaction to the cytisine.

            Planting a Golden Chain is not a difficult task.  Propagating from seed can be done by collecting them after they have dried on the tree and planting in a container of potting soil as deep as the seed is long.  Keep the container outside throughout the winter to simulate natural winter conditions, and in the spring, a sprout should be evident.  Once the seedling is strong enough, it can be transplanted directly into the ground.  Soil that receives good drainage is needed in an area that is well sheltered from the wind and strong sun.   The delicate bark of the tree tends to scorch in the hot midday sun, as does the foliage.

            Though great care must be taken due to the poisonous aspects it possesses, the Golden Chain tree can be a stunning focal point of the landscape while blooming.