Arboretum: Firmiana simplex. Chinese parasol tree
A relatively new tree on campus here at Haverford College is also our only representative of the cacao or chocolate family Sterculiaceae, since it is the only species hardy to our zone 6b-7.
A fast grower, this round-topped tree can reach 30 to 45 feet tall. Its large, rich green leaves and smooth, unusual light green bark give it a tropical feel. The leaves are three or five-lobed and have the general appearance of a maple leaf, only they’re much larger. Fall color is yellow.
The yellowish-green flowers form in mid-summer on 10 to 12-inch long panicles. The resulting pods split open in fall, spreading many viable seeds. In more southern areas, Firmiana simplex has the potential for becoming a seriously invasive plant.
As its common name implies, the tree is native to China and Japan. We have planted our specimen near the Asian Gardens at the ramp to the lower level of the Dining Center. Here the beauty of the tree can be best seen up close as it gains height.