Shrub of the Week: David's Mountainlaurel

Published on

{This post was written and images provided by Joe Cochran, curator of OSU’s Secrest Arboretum at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center at Wooster; end note from Jim Chatfield}

  Sophora davidii, David’s mountainlaurel or David’s pagoda tree, formerly known as  S. viciifolia, is a multi-stemmed deciduous shrub from the Sichuan region of China. It was discovered by the Jesuit missionary, Jean Pierre Armand David (1826-1900). Among his many plant discoveries, Père David is also known for introducing to the West, the giant panda. It was in this same Sichuan province, in 1869, that he encountered this unusual black and white bear.

  As to this shrub, although it is not easy to locate in the trade, it can be a noteworthy addition to any landscape. Growing to 8 ft. with an equal spread, S. davidii has many attributes. The two- toned bluish petals emerge from purple calyces in late spring or early summer. True to the genus name Sophora (Arabic for trees with pea-like flowers) they are easily recognized as being members of the Fabaceae family. Flowers give way to bean-like seed pods, each containing 1-4 seeds. The ferny, pinnate leaves reveal a hint of blue, giving the plant a cool appearance throughout the summer. Although the fall color is a bit drab, the twiggy, gray-black stems offer a pleasing structure during the winter months.


Sophora davidii with fruits

  A relatively hardy shrub, (zone 5-8) once established it is very adaptable to both dry and moist locations. It is very forgiving of soil type and pH and is highly tolerant of urban conditions. It does prefer full sun but will tolerate light shade for a portion of the day. S. davidii is deer- tolerant and has no serious insect or disease issues.


Sophora davidii flowers


  If you’re up for the search, I highly recommend David’s Mountain Laurel as an interesting addition to your landscape.

{Note: I admit, whenever I used to think about Sophora it was limited to Sophora japonica, the Japanese pagoda tree or Chinese scholar tree. Then a few years ago Kenny Cochran gave or sold me one of the above Sophora davidii plants and after trying to kill it for a few years, it is really looking good and came into beautiful bloom this year. Then last week, while in north Texas we came upon several different Sophora species, including the native (to here) Sophora secundiflora, the Texas mountain laurel which has a number of additional monikers, including mescal bean, frijollito, coral bean, and my favorite – big drunk bean. There is a story there, somewhere. - Chat}

{Additional Note: Those who are taxonomically inclined, as we all should be, are aware that there is a reclassification of the genus Sophora, such that Sophora japonicum is now Styphnolobium japonicum, on the basis of it not being symbiotically associated with nitrogen-fixing Rhizobium bacteria like other Sophora species. Sophora secundiflora  has also been given another genus, but enough for now…I’m beginning to have a drunken bean moment!}