Forest 97 - American Yellowwood

Cladrastis kentukea

Cladrastis kentukea leaves. Photo not from the Arboretum Cladrastis kentukea tree. Photo not from the Arboretum

Origin of the species name

Cladrastis is from Greek in reference to the brittle wood; kentukea is the Latin form meaning of Kentucky.



Date planted

May 2012


Trees of this species are expected to live over 60 years.

Cladrastis kentukea flowers. Flowers not from the Arboretum

General description

This is a medium-sized deciduous tree with smooth grey bark and a broad, rounded crown. The pinnate leaves are 20-30 cm long and in autumn turn a mix of yellow, gold, and orange. The flowers are fragrant, white and are produced in wisteria-like racemes 15-30 cm long. The fruit is a pod 5-8 cm long, containing 2-6 seeds. Height 15m Spread 10m.

Natural distribution and habitat

The species is native to south-eastern United States of America where it is often found growing on limestone cliffs.

Conservation status

It is not recorded as a threatened tree but is considered to be a rare species growing in infrequent and isolated locations with those populations in decline.

Planting pattern

Planted in a regular square grid pattern, set at an angle but with some small clearings.


The name yellowwood derives from the tree's yellow heartwood which turns light brown on exposure to light. It is used in small amounts as a substitute for walnut for specialist furniture, gunstocks and decorative woodturning. It is also used as a source for a yellow dye.

Further reading

Palmer, C (2008) Trees and Forests of North America. Abrams