Pagoda tree, Styphnolobium japonicum
Although its Latin name, Styphnolobium japonicum, implies that the pagoda tree is a Japanese plant, it is in fact native to China, but was first described from a cultivated specimen from Japan. It was introduced to Britain in 1753 by the famous nurseryman James Gordon. It is believed this tree was one of an original five obtained for Kew which were planted in 1760. They are thought to have been the first in the country. Collectively these original trees are known as the "Old Lions".
The tree’s common name probably arose because it was often planted in the grounds of Buddhist temples. Some of the original Sophoras in the gardens at Kew were planted near to the Pagoda (built in 1761) presumably because of their Chinese origins and its common name. It is still popular as an ornamental due to its showy inflorescences of creamy white flowers arranged in panicles. In Japan, its durable wood was used for pillars and door frames, while in China, despite their strong purgative properties, extracts of the leaves and fruits were used to adulterate opium.
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