Firmiana Parasol Trees: How To Grow A Chinese Parasol Tree
By: Teo Spengler
“Chinese parasol tree” is an unusual name for an unusual tree. What is a Chinese parasol tree? It’s a deciduous tree with extremely large, bright-green leaves. For more information and to learn how to grow a Chinese parasol tree, read on.
About Firmiana Parasol Trees
The odds are, you’ll either love or hate parasol trees. Growing Chinese parasol trees definitely gives your garden a dramatic, tropical flavor. This is a curious-looking deciduous tree with the scientific name Firmiana simplex. The trees are also called Firmiana parasol trees.
Firmiana parasol trees have thin green bark and large, lobed leaves. Each leaf can get to 12 inches (30 cm.) across, and offers as much shade as the parasol from which the tree gets its common name. Chinese parasol trees shoot up to 50 feet (15 m.) tall, with a spread up to 20 feet (6 m.). In summer, the flowers appear. They are panicles of yellow-green blossoms, up to 20 inches (50 cm.) long.
Firmiana parasol trees produce attractive seed pods in fall. At that time, the trees’ leaves blaze yellow before dropping in winter.
How to Grow a Chinese Parasol Tree
These plants thrive in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 through 9. If you live in one of those zones, you may be able to start growing Chinese parasol trees. Parasol trees grow fast, so be sure to choose a site with enough room. You can start growing Chinese parasol trees in a location in full sun or partial sun, although they are most attractive in a full sun site. Site the tree in an area that is protected from the wind.
Chinese parasol tree care is not difficult. The trees, though exotic looking, are very tolerant. They will grow just fine in acidic or alkaline soil. They grow in clay, sand or loan, but need a well-drained location.
Provide adequate, even generous, amounts of water when the trees are young. As they get older, they are drought resistant.
If you start growing Chinese parasol trees, keep in mind that you’ll need to watch the branch size. Good Chinese parasol tree care requires that you limit branch size to no larger than half the diameter of the trunk to ensure a good tree attachment.
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Firmiana Species, Chinese Parasol Tree, Varnish Tree
|Family:||Malvaceae (mal-VAY-see-ee) (Info)|
|Genus:||Firmiana (fer-mee-AY-nuh) (Info)|
|Species:||simplex (SIM-plecks) (Info)|
Tropicals and Tender Perennials
Requires consistently moist soil do not let dry out between waterings
USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 °C (5 °F)
USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 °C (10 °F)
USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 °C (15 °F)
USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 °C (20 °F)
USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 °C (25 °F)
USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 °C (30 °F)
USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 °C (35 °F)
USDA Zone 11: above 4.5 °C (40 °F)
Where to Grow:
Grow outdoors year-round in hardiness zone
Can be grown as an annual
This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds
May be a noxious weed or invasive
Soil pH requirements:
From seed sow indoors before last frost
Allow pods to dry on plant break open to collect seeds
Wear gloves to protect hands when handling seeds
This plant is said to grow outdoors in the following regions:
North Little Rock, Arkansas
Greenwell Springs, Louisiana
Shreveport, Louisiana(2 reports)
Madison, Mississippi(2 reports)
Elizabeth City, North Carolina
On Jul 7, 2020, Thedrizzle2099 from Winter Garden, FL wrote:
This is an invasive, fast-growing, weed type tree. When it gets started it will easily grow multiple feet a year with a surprisingly large trunk. Although it has very nice large leaves and quick growth and can reach a large height, it spreads everywhere if unchecked. Because it is such a vigorous grower, it can easily spread from seed and from root system. Be careful when planting this plant.
On Oct 15, 2018, KayGrow from Montgomery, AL wrote:
This tree is horribly invasive. PLEASE do not plant it. If you already have it, please remove it. I do not have it, but the house across the street does. It has lifted a nearby side walk. Seedlings have come up everywhere in my yard and in property several hundred yards away. In my experience, they are are worse than popcorn trees (Chinese tallow).
On Oct 7, 2015, Teresa128 from Seguin, TX wrote:
I got this tree from my mother in law about 20 years ago. It started off looking like nothing more than a 3ft tall green stick. It then started to branch out into a beautiful tree. She lives by the Guadalupe River and she had some "volunteers" sprout up by the river. I saw the parent plant with those big leaves and thought it wouldn't survive where I live because I live on the dry,flat prairie. I never water it even though we are currently in a drought of 2 months without rain and there are cracks in the ground that you could lose a small child in.so don't believe the bit about needing lots of water.
On Apr 29, 2015, SunWukong from Mora d'Ebre,
This is NOT the Varnish Tree, which is completely different. In Chinese, Firmiana simplex is called Wutong. The Varnish tree is Vernicia (two species), and is also called Tong in Chinese (You tong or Mu you tong).
Firmiana seeds are edible - probably best roasted. No part of the tree is poisonous, as far as I am aware (but who would want to eat anything other than the seeds anyway?).
I have seen this tree growing in Beijing, which can be very cold in winter, so it is undoubtedly able to stand quite severe frosts. It also likes a good hot summer, and, like many woody plants, survives frost better if the wood has been well ripened by plenty of summer heat.
As to whether it is invasive or not - clearly this depends. Where growing conditions really . read more suit it, it can be invasive, but it isn't invasive everywhere.
On Nov 9, 2013, stellab3 from Oklahoma City, OK wrote:
I like my Chinese Parasol Tree. I put it in the wrong place, and it does multiply. The wrong place is over the walkway to my front door. When it blooms, it drops the sweet smelling little blooms on the walk in front of my house leading to the front door. If I sweep it up - almost daily, it's okay. Every fly, bee, butterfly, moth and wasp in North America likes these blooms. If they get wet, they make a gooey paste which tracks into the house. If it weren't over the walkway to the house, it wouldn't be a problem. I think the seed pods are nothing short of art. They look like a piece of art deco, and I love them. The little berries do plant themselves in my flower beds, but I know what they look like, and pull them up when I see them. I wouldn't want them to grow every where they turn. read more up. I potted a couple of seedlings up for my mother over ten years ago. She couldn't decide where to plant them, so they remain in the pot. This stunts them and they don't grow beyond their current height of about 3 feet, and they don't bloom. Not a bad deal. They're wonderful. Every fall, the leaves drop and leave two green stems with little brown velvet "leaflets" in a ball at the top. In the spring the neat parasol top comes back and is lovely. I have trimmed the one in my doorway back so it didn't bloom over the walkway this year. I will try to maintain it this way. Planted in the big open it would be perfect. It has it's virtues and it's problems. You can't let the seedlings grow everywhere, same with maples, elms, pecans. Every tree has some drawback. I'm in Oklahoma City, it takes the summers and the winters well and doesn't seem to have any health problems.
On Apr 30, 2013, Raylan from Lake Worth, TX wrote:
I found this seedling growing in the container of another plant I bought at a nursery. On a whim, I planted it along with the plant I purchased. I had no idea what it was. I planted in the garden behind my pool and as it grew I wondered if it could damage the pool as it was above the pvc that operated the waterfall. I took a leaf to the nursery where it had hitchhiked from and was shocked when they showed me their tree which although gorgeous was easily 30 feet. We moved the tree to another garden where it has grown to approximately 20 feet in 6 years. It has survived one exceptionally cold winter and a couple record-breaking summers. I have read negative reviews of this tree on this site, but I love it and its beautiful foliage.
On Jun 17, 2012, burien_gardener from Burien (SW Seattle), WA (Zone 8b) wrote:
It appears this tree could be an invasive in the warmer US southeast. Since it prefers moist soils, it's less likely to be a problem in the warmer southwest -- though it might colonize areas with dependable moisture (seeps, stream riparian).
Here in the Pacific Northwest it is unlikely to be a problem, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be vigilant.
On Mar 3, 2012, Little_D_Farm from Eastman, GA wrote:
We inherited one of the chinese parasol trees with our home thirty years ago. It was brought to my husband's grandfather from Texas 20 years prior to that as a seedling. The unusual thing about it was that it never produced flowers or seed until about 15 years ago and it was all of the sudden and for no obvious reason. It was right outside our kitchen window so we would have noticed had it produced flowers and seeds over those earlier years. Once it began to flower and shed seed, it died a few years after that. Because of the sentimental value of the tree to my husband, we had saved a few trees that came up from the seed and now we have several mature trees in the yard. Invasive is not what we would call it but we do have several trees to come up every year from the trees we have tra. read more nsplanted. It's a pretty tree and provides very good shade. Our old tree was very well established when we moved to the house. The soil was very harsh where it was planted and it did not get a lot of water in the summer. I don't have to pamper the ones we have now at all either. The few we have grow well. If we pampered them with fertilizer and regular water, they might become an invasive problem though. We are in the middle Georgia area.
On Feb 11, 2012, 1moretree from Bethel, OH (Zone 6a) wrote:
Very interesting looking tree. There's several growing near me at the Cincinnati, OH Zoo & Botanical Gardens, so surviving Z6b at least. I collected some seeds off the ground last season and sprouted a few. They are currently in the ground and trying out their first winter in my yard, one will be in fairly open shade, the other one part sun. I have lots of room, so looking forward to them. No complaints, yet.
On Sep 11, 2011, ChuckArk from North Little Rock, AR wrote:
I live in North Little Rock, AR (zone 7 - + 5 f) and have planted a few of these three years ago from seeds that I bought on line. One is 20 ft tall and blooming and producing seed pots.
These are beautiful and exotic trees. I have limited success propagating but am learning how to do this.
On Apr 10, 2011, gigi4two from Spring Hill, FL wrote:
I agree that the plant does provide wonderful shade and the leaves and trunk are very pretty. That being said, the negative about this tree is that it's over-running my (smallish) backyard, as well as all of the neighboring yards. The tree was given to me, in a coffee can, by a co-worker over (20) years ago, with the promise that in 5 years I would be sitting under it well, that's for sure! My 1st tree is over 40' tall and spreads over 25' wide!! . and, I'm always pruning it --- trying to keep it in the confins of my own yard, althought it's too late for that now! :)
On May 16, 2010, scshul from Birmingham, AL wrote:
please help me. my yard is over run with this plant. i'm sure if i only had one tree there would be no problem. they are everywhere!! i don't know how to get rid of them. if anyone knows, please let me know.
On Apr 3, 2010, OKplantnerd38 from Oklahoma City, OK (Zone 7a) wrote:
I became familiar with this tree when I lived in Houston and New Orleans, so I was surprised to discover one growing in OKC (Zone 7A) in the landscaping around the back patio of one of my favorite bars/hangouts. It's in a slight microclimate at best and has had no winter damage in the 3 years I have lived here. Interesting greenish bark in the winter, and it always makes a great conversation-starter because most locals have never seen one and wonder what "that tree in the corner with the big leaves" is. I've made a lot of acquaintences and even a few good friends because of Firmiana simplex!
On Feb 24, 2010, edthetreeguy from Cowarts, AL wrote:
Do the United States a favor and DO NOT plant this tree! It is a noxious invasive species, as are many plants which produce copious amounts of flowers. Makes sense, really, since thousands of flowers easily translates into tens of thousands, even millions of invasive seed (see Chinese & Japanese Privet Hedge, Japanese honeysuckle, Kudzu, cogon grass, sawtooth oak, et al.). Birds eat the seed, then plant them in all of your neighbors yards, and their neighbors yards & so on and on.
If you want to plant something in the good ole' US of A, plant something NATIVE to your area! It will do well in your area You'll pay less for it in the long run.
On Jul 4, 2009, patdhen from Baton Rouge, LA wrote:
Our landscape architect planted the Chinese Parasol tree in the front courtyard that faces the west in 2003. I was not aware that all the leaves would fall off during the mild winter here in Baton Rouge La. However, in the spring, all the leaves came back. The trunk is very limber and it had to be tied down to keep it growing straight. Last year there was blooms in the top of the tree only. This year there are blooms everywhere on all the branches. The tree is about 20' tall and provides good shade and the birds like to hide beneath the leaves. We love the tropical look of this tree! In 7 years we have not noticed any sprouts coming up in the courtyard.
On Sep 14, 2008, luckymama1311 from Round Rock, TX wrote:
I don't know if I am allowed to ask questions but I don't see anything against it, so here goes?
I am assuming this plant is poisonous?
I live near austin, tx. will it do well here?
I have two small children is it safe to have in the yard?
how hard is it to clean up to keep from multiplying all over the yard? thanks!
On Apr 10, 2008, cactusman102 from Lawrence, KS wrote:
Interesting Foliage! Beautiful winter green bark! Hardiness listed is too conservative. Have seen growing at OBGA gardens (OSU) in Stillwater (zone 7a) and in Lawrence KS (zone 6a) in a protected spot. In Stillwater, the tree survived -19 with damage to top half. Suckers came back and made it more bushy. In Lawrence KS, the tree survived many nights of 0 to -8 and highs in the teens for many times over 3 winters.
On Nov 9, 2006, Nkytree from Burlington, KY wrote:
Cox Arboretum in Dayton, OH has an impressive specimen considering how far north they are above zone 7. Their tree is about 30ft tall with multiple trunks, and has been said to have survived -20F winters. A few people are propagating seed from this tree in hopes of extending this species range.
On Oct 27, 2006, jeri11 from Central, LA (Zone 8b) wrote:
There is a chinese parasol tree at the door to Jax's Brewery in New Orleans that has been there forever. I collected seeds and planted them and everyone came up. I've given them away and have one in my yard. It's doing great. No flowers yet.
On Jul 29, 2006, escambiaguy from Atmore, AL (Zone 8b) wrote:
While the foliage may be attractive, the flowers and seeds are ugly. It has also started to be invasive around my area as I have seen many sprouting up on the roadsides.
On May 12, 2005, zsnp from Pensacola, FL (Zone 8b) wrote:
If you want some shade in your yard during the summer, get this tree. It has huge leaves. And it grows almost like a mushroom it grows very quickly!!
On Jun 2, 2004, enalter from Leakesville, MS (Zone 8b) wrote:
I have one large tree, probably 20 years old, and has weathered many a storm, the large trunk keeps putting on new sprouts, and continues to bloom and put off many seeds which come up all over the yard, easily transplanted to pots, which I have done, and given away. This tree is a very fast grower, at least 5 to 6 foot each year.
Chinese Parasol Tree flowers
Chinese Parasol Tree flowers
Other Names: Chinese Honey Tree
A large tree producing a dense canopy of rectangular foliage bathed in lovely pink blooms in spring that fade to white, with egg shaped fruit in summer and fall an impressive landscape accent
Chinese Parasol Tree is bathed in stunning nodding pink star-shaped flowers with white overtones at the ends of the branches from late spring to early summer. It has attractive green foliage which emerges chartreuse in spring. The glossy pointy leaves are highly ornamental but do not develop any appreciable fall color. The fruits are showy brown pods displayed from mid summer to mid fall.
Chinese Parasol Tree is a deciduous tree with an upright spreading habit of growth. Its average texture blends into the landscape, but can be balanced by one or two finer or coarser trees or shrubs for an effective composition.
This is a relatively low maintenance tree, and should only be pruned after flowering to avoid removing any of the current season's flowers. It is a good choice for attracting birds and bees to your yard. It has no significant negative characteristics.
Chinese Parasol Tree is recommended for the following landscape applications
- Vertical Accent
Chinese Parasol Tree will grow to be about 50 feet tall at maturity, with a spread of 30 feet. It has a high canopy with a typical clearance of 7 feet from the ground, and should not be planted underneath power lines. As it matures, the lower branches of this tree can be strategically removed to create a high enough canopy to support unobstructed human traffic underneath. It grows at a medium rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for 60 years or more.
This tree should only be grown in full sunlight. It prefers to grow in average to moist conditions, and shouldn't be allowed to dry out. It is not particular as to soil type or pH. It is somewhat tolerant of urban pollution. This species is not originally from North America.
It has alternate, deciduous leaves up to 30 cm (12 inches) across and small fragrant, greenish-white flowers borne in large inflorescences. A flowering tree varies in fragrance with weather and time of the day, having a lemony odor with citronella and chocolate tones. A tall, stately specimen grows in the botanical garden in Florence, Italy. Bumble bees and Giant Mason Bees readily visit the flowers in Maryland, U.S. People grow this tree as an ornamental in warm regions of North America.
Due to its superior sonic properties, the wood is used for the soundboards of several Chinese instruments, including the guqin and guzheng.
According to an article in the journal Nature of 1884, the leaves of Sterculia platanifolia were dried for smoking  the reason for smoking it was not given, but another source simply says that it was used as a substitute for tobacco.  
The roasted seeds have reportedly been used to make into a tea. 
This species is an aggressive, invasive weed in the warmer parts of North America  Some people promote its removal and give instructions for drastic measures, including destruction of nursery stock. This plant is self-fertile, and its seeds spread readily, especially along watercourses, growing rapidly after germination in favorable sites. Offspring effectively compete with many other species. 
The tree appears "out of place" to some horticulturists but many people enjoy the dramatic impact one or several of these trees can have on a landscape. The tree lends a tropical effect and is probably best used only occasionally as a specimen. It could be tried as a street tree on a small scale but may be objectionable due to the so-called messy nature of the tree. Leaves are large, decompose slowly and blow around in the landscape after they fall. Falling fruits also contribute to the mess but they are dry. The tree looks a bit scraggly in winter with old flower stalks persisting on the branch tips. There is a tree in Raleigh, North Carolina which is 45 feet tall with an 18-inch-diameter trunk and still growing. But on many sites, count on about 30-years of service unless located in an area with lots of soil space and pruned regularly to develop good form.
Branches can be poorly attached to the trunk so be sure that branches grow no larger than about half the diameter of the trunk. This will help ensure a stronger attachment to the tree. Roots often grow close to the surface in clay soil especially near the trunk.
Chinese Parasoltree should be grown a full-sun, wind-protected location. Trees will grow in shade with an upright, almost columnar form as they reach for the sunlight. Trees should be regularly watered when young but become drought-tolerant once established. They tolerate clay soil but often develop root rot if the soil is not well-drained. Not a downtown tree.
The cultivar `Variegata' has green and white-dappled leaves. Rare in the nursery trade.
Pests and Diseases
A trunk scale may kill a tree if not controlled.
This document is ENH418, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date November 1993. Revised December 2006. Reviewed February 2014. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.
Edward F. Gilman, professor, Environmental Horticulture Department Dennis G. Watson, former associate professor, Agricultural Engineering Department, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.
The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.