April 23, 2017

Don’t Eat the Tree

Laburnum x watereri - goldenchain tree | Photo courtesy of Glen Mittelhauser/Maine Natural History Observatory

Laburnum x watereri – goldenchain tree | Photo courtesy of Glen Mittelhauser/Maine Natural History Observatory

Goldenchain tree may be a member of the pea family, but the excessive number of pea-like seeds produced in the many pendulous racemes that make the tree famous are poisonous. Laburnum x watereri is hardy to Zone 5, reaching about 15 feet in height in maturity. It is not native to the United States, but to the southern mountains of Europe stretching from France to the Balkan Peninsula. Other than the impressive display of flowers raining down from the branches, the tree is nondescript, with little color in the fall as it turns a yellow-green. Several books and TV shows reference Laburnum over the poisonous aspect of its seeds. One such is the classic mystery “My Cousin Rachel” by Daphne du Maurier, which was made into a movie starring Richard Burton and Olivia de Havilland in 1952. It was suspected that Laburnum seeds were used to poison one of the characters.

Wild Wednesday is a collaboration of Garden Maine and Glen Mittelhauser of the nonprofit Maine Natural History Observatory, www.mainenaturalhistory.org.

In 2012, Glen began working to catalog the plants of Baxter State Park, which you can read about here and find out how to sponsor a plant of your own. Courtesy of a poll taken in 2012, Garden Maine is sponsoring this lovely plant.