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Common laburnum

One of Britain's most popular flowering trees, the common laburnum is also among the most poisonous. Just 15 - 20 of the pea-like seeds could be a lethal dose. Luckily the most popular hybrids rarely produce viable seed.

Common laburnum

About Kew's common laburnum

The most common laburnum variety in the UK is the hybrid Voss's laburnum. It was created in 1864, and is the offspring of the Scotch laburnum (which has long flowers or 'racemes') and the common laburnum (which has densely packed flowers).

Like every part of the tree, laburnum seeds are poisonous to humans. Voss's laburnum doesn't often produce viable seed so is safer around children. This specimen is the common laburnum however – so don't eat it!

Take a closer look

  • The leaves are made up of three leaflets, with a smooth upper surface and a hairy underside.
  • In May and June the display of flowers is spectacular and earns this plant the nickname 'golden rain', or the 'golden chain tree'.

Tree biology

The laburnum is a small tree or shrub that is hugely popular in UK gardens for its golden yellow and sweet scented flowers, appearing in chains (racemes) up to 25 cm long.

All parts of the plant contain cytisine however, which is poisonous to humans, goats and horses. This is concentrated in the seeds (especially unripe ones) and in large doses, interferes with breathing and can even be deadly.

Cultivation and uses

Aside from its popularity as a garden tree, the laburnum produces excellent, hard timber ideal for making veneers. The sapwood of the tree (the outer layer of wood, nearest the bark) is a creamy yellow, while the heartwood (the inner wood) is dark brown. Before the days of wood staining, these two different colours meant laburnum could be used to create patterned veneers. The hardness and close-grain mean it is also perfect for turning products like bowls, tool handles or even chess pieces.

Quick facts

  • Scientific name: Laburnum anagyroides
  • Family: Leguminosae
  • Place of origin: southern and central Europe
  • Conservation status: not evaluated – but the common laburnum's popularity as a garden plant means it is common in cultivation
  • Date planted: not recorded
  • Height: 8 m