a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France

Is this tree Colutea arborescens or Bladder Senna?


My tree is very definitely my Colutea, it is not difficult to say and I am not going to call it a Bladder Senna.  For a start the common name is inaccurate.  It is not a Senna although the leaves are reputed to have a laxative effect similar but milder than senna ( I pass this little snippet on but I have no first hand knowledge of its accuracy and have no inclination towards eating the leaves.)  I suppose in addition it is the bladder part of the name I object to.  The yellow flowers give rise to paper thin seed pods that are unusual but I find them attractive and an additional attraction of the plant.

I first saw Colutea in Crathes Castle garden, Aberdeenshire, Scotland.  I liked it so much I bought a plant from their nursery and brought it over to France.  All this without knowing it was called a Bladder Senna.

I love my garden but there is always so much to do that I really appreciate the plants that give back such a lot with so little care.  This is where the Colutea fits in so well.  The plant covers a wide geographical range in the wild, stretching from the Himalayas to Southern Europe and can survive up to zone 6 0r 7.  It is its ability to survive in tough conditions such as a poor dry soil and to withstand strong sun makes it an ideal shrub for difficult spots.  It is deciduous and was completely unfazed by the severe period of cold we experienced in February this year.

It produces attractive yellow flowers during the summer.  The flowers have a similar shape to pea and bean flowers and is in the same leguminosae family and able to fix nitrogen, it is perhaps this adaptation that allows it to thrive in poorer soils.

The pods start off as a light and translucent and become darker as they mature.

In addition the plant self seeds allowing you to keep back-up plants in the case of disaster or to give to friends.  This is my little forest of baby Colutea which have self seeded in the most unhospitable and dry area at the bottom of the garden.  I am not sure what I am going to do with them but after they have struggled to go forth and multiply it seems a shame to pull them out and throw them away.

Colutea grows rapidly, which is a good point but it needs to be pruned  to prevent it becoming leggy.  It can be cut back to in early spring  to train it to the shape required,  but that is about all the care it requires.

There is a beautiful old specimen in the gardens of the Château de la Roche Courbon not far from here so if it is good enough to be pampered in the garden of a château (despite its unattractive common name!) it is good enough for my little patch .

Author: afrenchgarden

Born in Scotland I have lived in England, Iran, USA and Greece. The house and land was bought twelve years ago in fulfilment of the dream of living in France that my Francophile husband nurtured. We had spent frequent holidays in France touring the more northerly parts and enjoying the food, scenery, architecture and of course gardens. However, we felt that to retire in France and enjoy a more clement climate than we currently had in Aberdeen we would need to find somewhere south of the river Loire but not too south to make returning to visit the UK onerous. The year 2000 saw us buying our house and setting it up to receive us and the family on holidays. The garden was more a field and we were helped by my son to remove the fencing that had separated the previous owners’ goats, sheep and chickens. We did inherit some lovely old trees and decided to plant more fruit trees that would survive and mature with the minimum of care until we took up permanent residence. The move took place in 2006 and the love hate relation with the “garden” started. There was so much to do in the house that there was little energy left for the hard tasks in the garden. It was very much a slow process and a steep learning curve. Expenditures have been kept to a minimum. The majority of the plants have been cuttings and I try to gather seeds wherever I can. The fruit trees have all been bought but we have tender hearts and cannot resist the little unloved shrub at a discount price and take it as a matter of honour to nurse it back to health. This year I have launched my Blog hoping to reach out to other gardeners in other countries. My aim is to make a garden for people to enjoy, providing shady and sunny spots with plants that enjoy living in this area with its limestone based subsoil and low rainfall in a warm summer. Exchanging ideas and exploring mutual problems will enrich my experience trying to form my French garden.

21 thoughts on “Is this tree Colutea arborescens or Bladder Senna?

  1. I am not familiar with this plant but I will look out for it from now on.


  2. It looks beautiful, the Colutea is just one of the trees (and plants) that I am growing from seed and so far so good. I look forward to the day when one of the seedlings grows into a tree as healthy as yours is.


  3. I’m always on the lookout for plants that survive drought and heat in the summer and freezing winters! This might be one to try… I’m so glad I found your blog! Lovely posts and photos! (I’m British too, and gardening in the south of Germany!)


  4. I have two with green pods and red/orange flowers. I took seed from one that was growing through a hedge a few years ago. I just grow them through holes in concrete. The trimmings are good for growing peas up if it has been cut back in the previous spring.
    They need to be protected from slugs in the wet British climate Derbyshire and would only self seed in a climate that does not favor slugs. Seeds germinate easily in trays away from slugs and have to be grown on in protected pots before planting out.
    The dry seed can be sent by post without them getting damaged.


    • My flowers are all very lemon, yellow. I wonder if yours is Colutea X Media “Copper Beauty”? I checked it out on the web and it looks lovely. It is interesting about the slugs as where mine self seed is very dry on sandy/limy soil. The bees like the flowers, does yours attract the bees too?


  5. It may well be copper beauty although I would describe the flowers as being iron stone red.
    I got my ID back in 2011 and the photos are still there. There has been a technical problem with the site that has shuffled them a bit.
    The soil is heavy clay and once the roots reach the clay it grows very fast and needs no added humus.
    They are happy with hard cutting back in spring.
    The bees do like the flowers but not as much as they like chives.


  6. Hi, my dad has asked me if i could help him in his quest to for some seeds from a ‘Common Bladder Senna” Can anyone help me with how to put the word out in search of some seeds? We are on the Central Coast NSW. Thanks Kim


  7. Hello from Toronto. 2 of my tree-hugging friends and I came across what surely is this plant – a shrub in Ontario – a week ago. We thought it must be a senna, but were unsure. Now, thanks to your marvellous blog, the identity is clear. Many thanks, eh!


    • So nice to hear from you on the other side of the Atlantic! I would have thought the Colutea would have found it a bit chilly in Toronto! It is a native of Southern Europe but thus saying I have seen it in gardens in Scotland. Amelia


      • Amelia, I have been known to jump to conclusions in the past, to my regret. Perhaps this is just another instance. I have tried to see if I could find another shrub which matches the ones we saw here a few weeks ago, to no avail as yet. So back to the drawing board I guess. If you have any ideas of your own what “mine” might be, do please pass them along. Here it’s not the summers but our winters which do the less hardy plants in. Mind you, the past 2 winters have been benign by Ontario standards. Tom


  8. I am trying to take seeds or a cutting from my parents plant so I can grow it in my own garden. I have taken the seeds from the pods, both when they are green and brown. How should I store them before planting? Should I let them dry out? I have also read that they should be blanched in hot water. I would be grateful for any help as I am new to this. Thanks, Helen

    Liked by 1 person

    • In France the Colutea self-seeds very easily so I do not think you should have any problems. They can thrive in poor soil so do not need special care. If you really want to be sure to get a seedling, think big (you get plenty of seeds from the pods) and plant a large number of seeds per pot in autumn and again in spring. You can always choose the best seedlings to plant onward. Here they advise to take cuttings in June. Good luck! Amelia


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