You won't be able to make a cake with this member of the cocoa family, but you will enjoy a fast growing, unique tree in your yard. They will grow to 30 feet tall and the large leaves create a parasol of shade that can extend to 20 feet across.
Firmiana simplex, Parasol Tree, has sweetly scented flowers followed by seed pods that can be used in dried flower arrangements. North Carolina State University has a photo of the tree in bloom.
The seeds that follow will make little trees where they fall. Duke's site has a good photo of the seedpods.
Lucky for us, we visited Christina Logan in Tulsa on a day she had a few seedlings to share. The Logan's have Parasol Trees along their driveway and in the back yard where they create a tropical look.
The Dirt Doctor, Howard Garrett lists these common names for the Parasol Tree, Chinese Parasol Tree, Chinese Varnish-Tree, Phoenix-Tree, Bottle-Tree, and Chinese Bottle Tree.
The bark is green and since the tree does not branch out like an oak tree, the winter look is unexpectedly clubby. One specimen we saw in Tulsa, had been encouraged to have multiple trunks and looked interesting.
It grows easily here and is cold hardy here. The leaves are quite large and Tina said they are thick and crisp like Magnolia leaves when they fall. Take a look at the leaf photos at Henderson State U.
The wood is weak and can't be used for construction projects. But, it has sonic properties, so the wood is used for the soundboards of Chinese instruments.
And, the tree is relatively short lived. But with all the seedlings coming up, there are replacements available. Garrett says to mulch under to trees to reduce the number of seedlings you have to manage.
A blog called Leur Existence has sweet photos of Parasol Tree seedlings.
The trees grow rapidly to form a shade barrier and could be used for quick privacy or shade while waiting for slow growing trees to become mature.
At TyTy Nursery online, they sell 7-foot tall Parasol Trees for $300 apiece. That's probably a 4 or 5 year old plant since they grow a few feet a year at first. They recommend Parasol Trees for zones 6 to 10 only. Good leaf photos at the TyTy Nursery site.
Firmiana, Parasol Tree, is considered a bit of a pest in southern states such as Georgia and Texas because of the seedlings all over the garden. We decided we wouldn't worry about that since we mow so many tree seedlings down as we ride the mower over the front and back yards. But, a homeowner with a pool should consider planting a Parasol Tree away from the pool to reduce the leaf clutter in the fall.
Botany dot com says the Varnish Tree name comes from the brown sap that comes out of the seed pods when they break open.
Grow in full sun, average water, protect from harsh weather by putting in a somewhat sheltered spot.