A common question of the fall season is, “What is the name of that tree with the rose-pink pods around town?” The tree, like many plants, goes by different names across the country but the most common are Chinese Flame or Bougainvillea Golden Rain (Koelreuteria bipinnata). Many people mistakenly refer to it as Golden Rain (Koelreuteria paniculata). I prefer the name Chinese Flame for the former to avoid adding to the confusion!
The two species are quite similar, both producing clusters of yellow blooms followed by papery seed pods that resemble Chinese lanterns. The differences are that while Golden Rain blooms in the spring to early summer and produces tan to brown pods in the summer, Chinese Flame blooms later in the season and produces the showier, deep rose-pink pods in late September to October in our area. Sometimes I’ve observed the tree still in bloom when pods are appearing from earlier blooms. Another difference is that the foliage of
Golden Rain is pinnately compound while the foliage of Chinese Flame is bipinnately compound, or twice compound (time to pull out the botany books or click here).
Both species tend to be weak-wooded and therefore need some training earlier in their life to create a stronger branch structure. Both also produce seed that will come up in surrounding areas, leading to a concern about invasiveness in some areas.