2011-08-05 / Home & Garden

In the Shade of the Chinese Parasol Tree

Stopping to smell the flowers
By Arlene Marturano marturanoa@ ya hoo.com

I brake for beautiful trees and Riverbanks Botanical Garden has quite a collection requiring one to slow down and take a closer look. The Chinese parasol tree, Firmiana simplex, near the ticket entrance to the garden is stunning in every season.

Each feature of the tree is attention grabbing. The rich green lobed leaves are similar in shape to maple leaves but as enormous as a hand fan. Leaves overlap each other creating dense shade.

In spring and summer star- shaped yellow flower spikes 12”-20” long extend from the tips of branches. Flower spikes transform into parasol-like seedpods, which spread over the crown in late summer. Cinnamon colored dry pods are used in everlasting bouquets. When the pods split open, they release a brown liquid looking like varnish, hence the common name varnish tree. In fall the leaves turn yellow complementing the thin smooth bright green bark of the tree. The bark beckons one to rub it.


The thin green bark is typical of a tropical tree although Firmiania simplex is a temperate specimen from China. The thin green bark is typical of a tropical tree although Firmiania simplex is a temperate specimen from China. The tree at Riverbanks receives full sun and should to produce the dense canopy, prodigious panicles and plenty of pixie parasols. Clay, sand or loam are all suitable soils as long as moist and well drained.

Since the parasols drop seed, and the seed sprouts easily without treatment, one can quickly acquire a colony of trees. A thick layer of mulch under the tree discourages seedlings.

The tree is low maintenance except for the large size and number of falling leaves in autumn. Although susceptible to scale insects and nactria canker, a fungal disease, the tree is considered pest and disease resistant.

Firmiania simplex is often seen as a specimen at botanical gardens and arboreta and could be used much more in the home landscape for ornament and shade. In Beijing Firmiania is a common street tree. Maturing to a height of 30-40’ and a spread of 15-20,’ the Chinese parasol tree offers a cool rest area and gathering place.


In spring, flower buds form along spikes at the tip of branches. In spring, flower buds form along spikes at the tip of branches. Visit the Riverbanks Botanical Garden to get a feel for Firmiania in your home landscape. Stand beneath the canopy and savor the shade. Feel the firm smooth bark. Picture the tree in your yard and have your picture taken under it.

Mail-order Sources
Ecolage
Forest Farm
Nursery at TyTy
Secret Garden Growers





The tree grows very quickly in the first ten years of life. The tree grows very quickly in the first ten years of life.

One leaf is as large as 12” x 12.” One leaf is as large as 12” x 12.”

White veining in leaves is a distinctive feature. White veining in leaves is a distinctive feature.

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