The Chinese bladder nut, a worthy alternative to the famed Yoshino cherry trees.
The Yoshino cherry trees — those are the ones that get all the attention — aren’t the only show-offs in town. Dr. Richard Olsen, a research geneticist and lead scientist for the urban tree-breeding program at the National Arboretum, has a favorite flowering tree you can see without fighting crowds. It’s called the Chinese bladder nut (the scientific name is Staphylea holocarpa ‘Rosea’), and “anybody who’s a plant geek really lusts after this plant,” says Olsen.
Blooming at the same time as the cherry blossoms, the bladder nut’s flowers, above, start out deep pink and move to a softer, lighter shade — looking very similar to D.C.’s most famous foliage.
The plant was first collected in China in the 1800s and wasn’t introduced into the U.S. until the early 1900s. It shares the “bladder nut” name with its American cousin, which has more subdued yellow-white flowers.
The Chinese bladder nut’s unsexy moniker hampers its popularity, Olsen believes. “You hear the name ‘bladder nut’ and you think, ‘Why would I want to plant a bladder nut in the garden?’” (The appellation reflects the tree’s fruit, which is a light, papery capsule.) But the specimen at the National Arboretum bears its name gracefully at the top of the Asian valley, ready to greet the spring far from the madding crowds.
U.S. National Arboretum, 3501 New York Ave. NE; daily, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., free; 202-245-2726.