2015 Urban Tree of the Year

Blog Category: Announcements, Tree Care
March 31, 2015 by Chad Sutherland, Arbor and Land Clearing Operations Manager

The Society of Municipal Arborists (SMA) announced the 2015 Urban Tree of the Year to be the Yellowwood (Cladrastis kentuckea). Sometimes referred to as the Kentucky Yellowwood or American Yellowwood, it is one of the rarest trees in eastern North America. You will find it in a restricted range from western North Carolina to eastern Oklahoma, and between southern Missouri and Indiana to central Alabama.

In the legume family, the Yellowwood is a medium sized deciduous tree, meaning it loses its leaves annually. It is characterized by smooth gray or light brown bark with yellow to pale brown wood that is heavy, hard and strong. The leaves bud pale green but turn dark green above and pale beneath when full grown. In the fall, they turn a bright clear yellow. The tree flowers in June with white, papilionaceous, which are slightly fragrant flowers. The Yellowwood is a low-maintenance, small shade tree perfect for patios and terraces.

Thinking of add this tree to your landscape? Think again! The chance of this tree surviving the harsh winter conditions we enjoy in Des Moines is slim! We might not get to appreciate the Yellowwood in our climate zone, but the Urban Tree of the Year shines light on the importance of bringing trees into our urban spaces.

The Tree of the Year program began in 1996. Each year, SMA urban forestry professionals from across the world select the urban tree of the year. The selected tree must meet certain criteria, including having strong ornamental traits. It’s often a species or cultivar considered underutilized by urban foresters.

2014: Vanessa Petite Parrotia

2013: Southern Live Oak

2012: Accolade Elm

2011: Goldenraintree

2010: Redbud

2009: Cinkapin Oak

2008: Black Tupelo

2007: Baldcypress

2006: Kentucky Coffeetree

2005: Chanticleer Pear

2004: Autumn Blaze Maple

2003: Allee Lacebark Elm

2002: Heritage River Birch

2001: Bur Oak

2000: Redmond Linden

1999: Skyline Honeylocust

1998: Swamp White Oak

1997: Ivory Silk Lilac

1996: Princeton Sentry Ginkgo


Photo Credit from left to right: “Cladrastis kentukea 1b UME” by Ulf Eliasson – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons, Society of Municipal Arborists; “Cladrastis kentukea Yellowwood Branch 2000px” by Photo (c)2006 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man) – Self-photographed. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons