Goldenraintree (Koelreuteria paniculata)
South edge of Ridgeway dorm complex
Two of these little trees are hidden far away at the top of campus, near Ridgeway Kappa. In the proper season they are well worth the trudge. In spring a colorful unfolding of large, pinnate or (occasionally) bipinnate leaves is followed by emergence of foot-long upright panicles covered with yellow flowers. No local tree provides a more striking display. Later in the season the flowers give way to conspicuous, decorative seed pods, first green in color but ripening gradually to brown, pinkish-brown, or even red. With a little imagination they suggest miniature Japanese lanterns, giving rise to an alternative name - Lantern tree. Even in winter the tree is worth a visit for its crevassed bark revealing interior stripes and splotches of reddish-purple hue.
This tree is not to be confused with the Goldenchain tree (Laburnum anagyroides) which it resembles only in color of flowers and similarity of common name. Laburnums bloom earlier, carry their yellow flowers on pendant racemes, and produce seedpods considered unsightly by some, and seriously poisonous by all who know. Goldenchain grows wild all around the WWU campus.
Koelreuteria paniculata is native to East Asia. It was introduced to North America in the late 1790s and has prospered. Indeed, in some parts of the country it is considered invasive; that is, it tends to propagate spontaneously and crowd out native plants. However, this does not appear to be the case in the Pacific Northwest. Perhaps most of its seedpods end up as costume jewelry!
While you are in the vicinity, look around and admire a small stand of quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) - and thus save yourself a second trip.