Laburnum Tree & Species in the UK

Despite being extremely poisonous the Laburnum tree is very popular for its beautiful display of golden yellow flowers that hang down in racemes in the spring.

It is often referred to as a Golden Rain tree and it is used as an ornamental tree in gardens or trained over arches and pagodas.


Laburnum Tree –  General Information

The Laburnum tree is not native to the United Kingdom, originating from the mountainous regions of southern and central Europe and arrived in Britain sometime in the latter part of the 16th century.

There are three species of Laburnum tree in the United Kingdom, Common Laburnum (Laburnum anagyroides), Scotch Laburnum (Laburnum alpinum) and the most popular variety today, Voss’s Laburnum (Laburnum x watereri).

Voss’s Laburnum is a hybrid between the common Laburnum and the Scotch Laburnum.

It produces the thickest and longest display of flowers but doesn’t produce as many of the poisonous seeds as the other two varieties.


Description of a Laburnum Tree

The Laburnum is a small, deciduous tree growing to about 30 feet tall and with a narrow trunk, making it very popular for the small garden.

They have a smooth, olive green coloured bark and leaves made up of three leaflets which are a pale green in colour.

The flowers, which appear in about May are a beautiful yellow colour, are pea shaped (the Laburnum is a member of the pea family) and grow on long, pendulous racemes.

Flowers contain both male and female reproductive organs but are still pollinated by insects.

As with any plant from the pea family their fruits are borne in pods which are a light green in colour, turning brown when they start to ripen during July to August.

Pods twist and split when they have ripened pushing out their seeds.

Seeds are brown on the Scotch Laburnum and black on the common Laburnum and remain on the tree through the winter.

All parts of the Laburnum tree are deadly poisonous including the flowers, leaves, roots, bark and of course the seeds which are sometimes eaten by young children.

Some of the symptoms of poisoning are severe diarrhoea, convulsions, vomiting and sleepiness.

This can be caused by the main toxin cytisine, which can prove fatal if large amounts have been consumed.


Cultivation of the Laburnum Tree

Laburnums grow well in a sunny position and on a well drained soil of chalk, sand, clay or loam but they do not tolerate being waterlogged as this will usually kill them.

The Laburnum has adapted extremely well to the British climate and flourishes very well in most conditions.

To propagate the Laburnum tree, the method used is grafting although they can also be grown from seed.


Pests of the Laburnum Tree

Young Laburnum trees can be damaged by snails and they can also be affected by leaf mining flies, leaf mining months and aphids.


Pruning of a Laburnum Tree

Laburnum trees should be pruned in late summer but they can be pruned up until Christmas.  They should not be pruned in the spring or early summer as they may bleed.

If you are growing your Laburnum as a specimen tree, remove any damaged stems and prune only to maintain the shape of the canopy.

If you are training your Laburnum tree over an arch for example, then regular pruning will be necessary in order to maintain it shape.

On grafted trees, any shoots which grow just below the graft should be carefully removed.


Other Uses

The wood was once greatly prized for cabinet making and for use as an inlay due to its hardiness and colour contrast.

The heartwood is a chocolate brown, whilst the sapwood is a buttery yellow in colour, known as oyster work in the furniture trade.

At one time the Laburnum wood was also popular for making the chanters on Scottish bagpipes and it is also a very good wood for turning work.


Interesting Facts

The leaves of the tree were once used medicinally for the treatment of liver disorders, migraine and irritability.

The leaves were also used at one time as an antidote to arsenic poisoning.


Article was written by Karen Arnold.

Edited by Conner D on 01/07/2019.

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13 comments on “Laburnum Tree & Species in the UK”

  1. My laburnum has flowered but the pod like things is badly covered in black fly will it be ok to remove the pods
    Many thanks

    1. Hi Christine Brookes,

      You could use a watery washing up liquid mix applied by spray and then blast them off with a hose.

      There are other options such as insecticide sprays or you can remove them by hand.

      Another option is to create a habitat for predators which is a great natural way of dealing with them.

      Thanks for your comment.

      GraftinGardeners Team.

    1. Dear Archana,

      A Laburnum is a good idea for a small place, they do not grow to a huge size and are very hardy.

      Little and often pruning will mitigate against extensive root growth and the crown of the tree will obviously be kept in check as well.

      Just remember that Laburnums are poisonous, the main toxin being cytisine which can cause intense sleepiness, vomiting, convulsive movements, coma, slight frothing at the mouth and unequally dilated pupils.

      This means it is not a good idea to plant one if there will be young children playing near the specimen (possibly picking up the seeds etc).

      Hope this helps.


      GraftinGardeners Team.

  2. my two laburnums (2 years old now) both have damage to their trunks. I can only describe as a kind of ‘gouging’ , there was no mower , or strimmer damage ever caused as I was careful to keep clear. they look lovely as they have produced their 1st yellow racemes this year. just wondering why the trunk/bark should be showing damage, and worried it might affect them.

    1. Hi Elizabeth,

      Hmmm …

      That’s is a tricky one to answer.

      We would not be surprised if it is being damaged by some sort of small mammal like the grey squirrel, or some other pest.

      Is there any sort of dieback on the leaves, or noticeable change in colour?


      GraftinGardeners Team.

  3. Hello,

    I have a 5 yr old whippy laburnum about 6 feet high of only one stem with short side branches.

    I’d like it to strengthen up so the trunch doesnt flop over.

    Maybe pruning would help?

    I see you say prune it in July, but not by how much to encourage a stronger trunk.
    Or maybe pruning is unecessary and with yet more ut will it strengthen itself?

    Any good advice appreciated.

    1. Hi Declan,

      By then sound of things you may want to place a stake next to the tree and secure it with a cable tie or some string.

      Another through is maybe it requires more nutrients which can be accomplished by adding some fresh mulch or compost around the tree or bed.

      With regards to pruning, the tree may or may not require trimming.

      Could you please send us a photo so we can get a better idea?

      Hope this helps.


      GraftinGardeners Team.

  4. Hi,
    I just bought a Vossii to have on my terrance. First it was ok but now the flowers are getting white and leafs droopi. I don’t see any flies or anything that could be doing this.
    Any ideas?
    Best regards

    1. Hi Sigrùn Herdìsardòttir,

      It sounds very much like a mildew and the weather conditions are ripe for this kind of problem.

      Mildew can be treated with a fungicide spray which you can pick up in a bottle from most garden centres.

      Thanks for your comment.

      GraftinGardeners Team.

  5. I see it is poisonous so would it be safe to plant in a meadow were dogs are frequently walked ?

  6. I am growing a laburnam tree from a stick I purchased this year> it is doing very well and has 3 long upright branches> should I prune these branches to try and make it bush out?

  7. Regarding the toxin present in these trees, what general health and safety guidelines would you suggest when cutting or pruning?

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