Chinese Parasol Tree

Here's how to grow Chinese Parasol Tree:


Latin Name

Firmiana simplex

Common Name

Chinese Parasol Tree

Family

Sterculiaceae, the chocolate family.

What kind of plant is it?

Energetic deciduous tree, with unusual green bark, distinctive large leaves, and Summer flowers

Hardiness

Zones 7 - 9

Habit

Upright when young, but a shade tree when mature.  The leaves provide dense shade, and while not truly large enough for a single one to serve as a quick parasol, they are about twelve inches broad.

Rate of Growth

Fast.

Size in ten years

In a mild climate, twenty feet or taller, fifteen feet and wider.

Texture

In leaf, the very large "blocky" leaves create a tropical feel.  In Winter, the sparse branching and green bark—from trunk base to twig-tip—is a show in itself.

Grown for

Showy foliage as well as the welcome dense shade it provides.  Tolerates frequent pruning, let alone heat and some drought, so is a natural street tree in compact quarters, or when local custom is in favor of lots of pruning.  The large loose clusters of airy white flowers are intriguing but secondary. 

Flowering season

Summer, when few trees are in bloom. 

Culture

Full sun, any reasonable soil. 

How to handle it

Check with your state's Agricultural Extension Service to see if Parasol Trees are permitted.  If so, site where it can grow to full size without pruning.  Spring pruning might inhibit Summer flowering, so perhaps the widespread use of this tree in oriental street-scapes where they are pollarded annually is wiser than I first thought.

Downsides

Self-seeds badly in the Southern United States, and is now, for example, on the noxious weeds list in Texas.  Seeding doesn't seem an issue at the colder end of its range.  Could this be a tree for increased use above the Mason-Dixon line, but decreased use below it?

Variants

None.

Availability

In warmer zones, at garden centers (except if prohibited); otherwise, on-line.

Propagation

Seeds as well as root sprouts.

Native habitat

China

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