Japanese Pagoda

Sophora Japonicapendula

This uncommon tree is found at the corner of the Meadow Reserve facing the tennis courts. It is not a native of Japan as its name suggests, but rather of China or Korea. It is created by grafting the contorted branches of the cultivar on the parent tree when the stem is about 2 metres high. The result is one of the most beautiful of all the weeping trees, and unlike a weeping willow it has the advantage of growing well on a dry soil. The leaves are made up of between 9 and 15 small oval leaflets and are similar to an acacia. They stand out when they first bud (illustrated below). There is a complicated mass of branching at the top of the bole with long, stiff branches pointing downwards. The overall effect is that of a natural arbour.

The tree was sold 150 years ago by a Hammersmith nursery, but no-one knows where they got it from! A fine example, 30 feet high, can be seen at Knaphill Nursery in Surrey. Unfortunately, this pendulous form rarely flowers. This is a pity, as the white petals are known to carpet the ground rather like some of the cherries in the Park. The fruits were used as a purgative and also to adulterate opium in China. The alternative name of Scholar’s Tree is said to have originated from the practice of planting the tree on schoolmasters’ graves.