I fell in love last Thursday. I spotted the object of my desire over the fence in a yard of one of the houses near the creekside walkway. It was magnificent.
Beautiful lavender-colored flower clusters adorned a pretty rounded tree with yellow-green leaves. The leaves were divided into delicate leaflets. The tree looked about 20 feet tall. But what was the name of this mysterious stranger?
I described the tree to a knowledgeable friend who told me it was the Purple Robe cultivar of Robinia pseudoacacia, common name Purple Robe Black Locust. Now that I had a name, it was time to do some research.
I found that these trees can tolerate poor soil conditions. They can take full sun or part shade. How versatile. They can get by with little water. So far, so good.
Those beautiful blossoms are described as wisteria-like in some sources and sweet-pea like in others. The blossoms are apparently very fragrant and attract bees which then produce a particularly tasty honey.
The pollinated blossoms become brownish-red seed pods varying from three to six inches in length. These seed pods can persist on the tree through winter, giving winter interest after the leaves have fallen. This was sounding better and better. The tree was even fire-resistant.
I was truly infatuated and began imagining our life together. Unfortunately, I kept on reading. Those glorious flowers only last 10 to 14 days. Well, I reasoned, I have faithfully tended iris rhizomes for a similar bloom time reward.
The trees are very fast growing and can reach a height of 30 to 50 feet. They can have a width of 20 to 35 feet. Uh-oh! I have a small, suburban yard. Its branches can have sharp thorns, although supposedly there are some thornless varieties.
An insect called the locust borer can attack the trunk and branches. Another called the locust leaf miner can cause such damage that the leaves turn brown in the summer. As if I need more plants that turn brown in my summer landscape.
The doubts began to creep in. I did more research. The tree is described as short- lived. The bark, leaves, and seeds are poisonous if eaten. The final nail in the coffin for this love affair came when I read a Sunset article by McCausland, Sweezy, and Wilhelm published in 1995. They pointed out that the wood and branches on the tree were very brittle and could break off in a windstorm. They felt the tree should not be planted in urban, windy areas. While Fairfield is hardly urban, it is wind central.
Since I adhere to the philosophy of selecting the right plant for the right space, I would have to give up my dreams of this tree. While appropriate for other places, this tree would not be a good match for my yard.
In reading some of the garden forums on the Internet, I found many others who had fallen in love with this tree and its incredible flowers. The ardor seemed to last for a year or two, but as the tree grew, so did the problems. The gardeners seemed to have spent more years trying to get rid of the tree than they had spent loving it. The break-up was bitter. The language used in the letters rivaled that used in the most rancorous of divorces.
At least I had found out before I made a commitment. For once, I had learned from the experience of others. Research and the Internet had saved me from myself.
For more information on this plant consult document ENH-730 of the Environmental Horticultural Dept, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Science, University of Florida by Edward Gilman and Dennis Watson.
-- Karen Metz