When I visited the arboretum at the University of Illinois in Urbana two years ago, as the guest of Christopher Tidrick, I fell in love with a rather threatening-looking tree. I found its thorny bark fascinating and it only took me minutes to express that I wanted one for Our Little Acre.
The Kalopanax septemlobus (synonym Kalopanax pictus) is the only species in its genus (very cool, that!) and is native to northeastern Asia. What I loved about it was its thorny bark and its gorgeous leaves that resemble those of another tree I love - the sweet gum. The leaves also look very much like castor bean leaves, which gives the Kalopanax its common name of prickly castor oil tree.
|This isn't a tree you'd want to run into while taking a moonlight stroll!|
As soon as we got home, I began searching online for sources and finally found one for purchase at Arrowhead Alpines, of all places. Known for their unusual perennials and smaller plants, finding the Kalopanax there surprised me. I immediately ordered, it arrived a short time later, and it was planted.
Last year's drought didn't do the Kalopanax any favors, but it hung in there with much supplemental watering. Then came this year, with its abundance of rain, and the Kalopanax was off and running. It is listed as a fast-growing tree, slowing only when it reaches an age of about 40 years, but wow...
See the gray bark toward the bottom of the tree, and then the green bark that is more than 75% of the total trunk of the tree? Yeah. That tree has grown 40 INCHES just this year!
The tree is hardy to Zones 4-8 and blooms with small white blooms in the spring that give way to drupes which birds love. Ours didn't bloom this year but with the size it's attained now, I expect to maybe see blooms next spring.