A Love Affair Gone Awry – Why I Won’t Plant Robinia Pseudocacia In My Garden Again

– Posted in: Garden Musings, Trees and Shrubs

I’m a pretty intense gardener. So when I love a certain specimen, I tend to use it with great abandon in my garden. Such was the case with Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia’ and ‘Purple Robe’.

I first came across this specimen on a trip to London in late spring, close to two decades ago. I was taken aback by its delicate, lime colored leaves in contrast with all of the green plant material around the base of its trunk. I made note of it and knew that at some point in the development of my garden that I would find a use for at least one robinia.


That happened in 1991 when my garden went through a major renovation: I transformed a steep sloping hillside into a garden with three levels by building extensive retaining stone walls. With two wide island beds on the left side of the steps at the top level, I felt that a strong statement was needed as a focal point as one walked upwards.

In researching robinias, I discovered that they were extremely fast growers that could thrive in poor, dry soil. At maturity, they were 30-50 feet tall and are hardy in USDA Zones 4-9.These would fit perfectly in my garden, so I thought.

I decided to plant 3 Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia’ on either side of the steps in a triangular shape. I ordered them from Gossler’s Nursery (www.gosslerfarms.com) in Oregon, a terrific source for unusual shrubs and trees.

Over the next 2 years, these 6 trees bloomed into a canopy of magnificent yellowish/chartreuse blooms in the spring, followed by racemes of large, fragrant white flowers. Because the trees were only 5-6 feet tall at this time, one really felt covered by their beauty when perched at the top of the staircase. After the flowers bloomed, the trees became inundated with seed pods.

I thought to myself, “If I have a good thing, why not add more where needed”. In a long extended sweeping bed abutting my neighbors property line with evergreens acting as the buffer point, I planted three more Robinia pseuocacia ‘Frisia’, siting them in scale to the 6 already planted.

For the first 5 years of their life, I absolutely loved my robinias. Yes, they were a bit of a nuisance when a storm hit. These specimens are composed of thin, brittle branches that in a somewhat windy storm break off and land all over the garden.And when their fragrant flowers turned into seed pods, although they retained their lime color, their startling beauty faded to ‘just another tree with delicate leaves’.

At the same time that I planted one set of robinias, I bought one for Chanticleer Garden, a public pleasure garden in my neighborhood, as a gift for the garden. Over the years, the gardeners have kept it pruned as a medium sized, free form shrub in a herbaceous border and it looks stunning, much like a Catalpa bignoides ‘Aurea’ (Indian Bean Tree) does.

And because my steep front yard was in need of some delicate curb trees, I began to research out other robinias. In the rose garden at Hidcote in late May, I had seen some Robinia hispida (bristly locust) shrubs interspersed with a plethora of roses and perennials. Its delicate, rose-pink blooms were delightful. Consequently, when I found Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Purple Robe’ in Greer Garden’s catalogue (www.greergardens.com), I thought I had found a winner and immediately order 4 of them.

Again, within 2 seasons, their spring bloom with dark green leaves in the spring, along with purplish/pink pendant shaped racemes of blooms was a knock out. People walking or driving by would literally stop and stare at them.


OK, so now I’ve given you the history of my relationship and love affair with these seductive trees. Let me tell you the down side of their personalities. Because they are so spiny and brittle and as they have become larger, more than a few branches, some of them major, break off of the tree. Secondly, their fast growth is problematic. Since I don’t buy into the theory of topping off trees, I have been unable to keep their canopy in the back area, low and welcoming. Thirdly, the shape of the trees had to be altered over several years of pruning. That is because so many of the lower branches broke off, many remaining ones were pruned to make the trees symmetrical in appearance. There now exists no sense of a canopy and the branches are so high that the only place one can view the beauty of these trees are on the lower levels.

And finally, their worst characteristic is a tendency to seed themselves any and everywhere. The first few times this happened, I thought,” How charming, I can give some small trees to my friends.” But each season, I have pulled out at least 2 dozen small trees (in borders and in my grass), along with cutting back dozens on the edge of my woodland that have become humongous. Whether or not they are labeled invasive, I don’t know. But I personally do label as an invasive species.

Would I use these trees in my garden again? Absolutely not! The only circumstance where I would use them is as Chanticleer did: as a standout shrub in a herbaceous border. Perhaps then one could keep this wild specimen under control while still enjoying its gorgeous color and delicious blooms!


Fran Sorin

Fran is the author of the highly-acclaimed book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, which Andrew Weil, M.D., recommends as "a profound and inspiring book."  

A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology, she is also a gardening and creativity expert, coach, inspirational speaker, CBS radio news gardening correspondent, and Huffington Post Contributor.

Learn more about Fran and get free resources that will help you improve your life at www.fransorin.com.

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Fran Sorin
49 comments… add one

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tai haku September 10, 2007, 8:31 pm

I prefer the golden Gleditzia cultivar the name of which has temporarily eluded me to sungold for many of the reasons cited. Its much nicer!

fransorin September 10, 2007, 10:46 pm

Thanks for making me aware of that cultivar. Will check it out.
If anyone has other comments on Robinias, feel free to chime in!

Rebecca September 12, 2007, 2:37 pm

I fell head-over-heels in love with Robinia pseudoacacia “purple robe” four years ago and planted one in my front yard. Biggest gardening mistake I’ve ever made. Aside from huge sections of the tree breaking off on a regular basis, the roots sent up hundreds of suckers. I eventually had to saw the tree down at the base. I continue to have innumerable suckers throughout my lawn and planting beds from the stump that won’t die. I pull them, spray them, and dig them, but I fear I will be battling this invasive tree for years to come.

fransorin September 13, 2007, 2:25 pm


I agree totally. It was one of the most invasive trees that I have ever come across. And the fact that it has thorns on its branches, makes it even worse!

Danielle November 13, 2007, 9:35 am

I’m from Quebec Canada (french canadian) I really love big leaf, and color contrasting plant. Your robinia frisia and catalpa aurea has amazing look, I never see it before. I would be interesting to seedling it I’f you can send me a seed.

fsorin November 14, 2007, 5:01 pm


It is too late for seeds now. If you remind me next spring, I will mark it down in my calendar and send you some. Probably if you get on the internet and check it out, you’ll find some good mail order sources in Quebec. (but will be happy to send you seed next year)! Fran

P.S. I graduated from high school in Montreal!!

Paula July 1, 2008, 4:08 pm

Chanticleer has at least 2 Frisia’s not pruned – let go to full growing trees. One is in the entry area of the front parking lot, the other is larger and overhangs the front patio, where you obtain tickets. Robert Herald advised me they don’t have issues with the tree, regarding suckers or breakage. Maybe because they’re not as exposed?

jenn July 25, 2008, 9:22 am

I have a beautiful 15 – 18 ft ‘Purple Robe’ tree and everyon in my neighbourhood loves it , as do I. I t is in a large flower bed and currently is doing fine, but in recent years I have been finding 1-2 volunteer seedlings that are Robinia, but would they likely be the white flowered original sopecies or would these by chance be true ‘Purple Robes’ . I live in a zone 5b – 6 in Ontario Canada. Any answers are appreciated

‘Purple Robe’ is absolutely breathtaking when in bloom! It is after the bloom period that I have found them disappointing. Unlike ‘pseudocacia frisia’ whose leaves turn yellow/chartreuse ‘Purple Robes’ leaves remain an undescript green. But when in bloom, people who drive by my house actually stop and stare. Interesting about the volunteer seedlings. Have found few of them but literally dozens and dozens from ‘Pseudocacia Frisia’. Thanks for reminding us what a beautiful specimen it is! Fran

Edward McClure January 13, 2009, 11:35 am

I too loved my Robinia Frisia for the first few years, and the color and flowers are still nice, now that it’s 20 feet tall. But the wood is very weak and it suckers like mad all over my garden.

Yes, the suckers and weak wood are a tremendous problem. Late fall, a few weeks after a major storm, I happened to look up at the 9 Robinias planted on my top hill. Lo and behold, on one of them, a central branch had split in two…probably from lightning…but still….frustrating. The only way I would have it in my garden in the future was to keep it pruned as a shrub. Thanks for your thoughts. Fran

Becky April 9, 2009, 11:53 pm

So, the Purple Robe will sucker a bunch? Great! That means new starts! I love it. I have one of these in, and look forward to it.

From what I understand, the Robinia frisia is a graft, however, so any suckers would be regular black locust. Bummer. I already have many black locusts.

I have 4 ‘Purple Robes’ as curb trees at the bottom of my steeply sloping front yard. When in bloom, people literally stop their cars to gaze at them. Unfortunately, their leaves don’t turn into that wonderful yellow that ‘Frisia’ does as once the blooms are spent. ‘Purple Robe’ is a cultivar of black or common locust. Enjoy it! The blooms don’t disappoint!! Fran

Tony May 11, 2009, 6:30 am

Just wondering if anyone can help…

My mother passed away about 5 years ago. When we were sorting out her estate, we noticed a tree in her front garden which we believe to be a type of Robinia. It’s branches were ‘twisted’ like a corkscrew, but its branches also arched over until they grew towards the ground (like a weeping willow). I have seen photos of the ‘tortuosa’ and ‘twisty baby’ varieties, but neither of these look anything like the aspect of my mum’s tree. I’d really like a specimen for my garden (the tree was simply cut down by the people we sold the house to) for sentimental reasons and because it was such a stunning tree.

Am wondering if it could be Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’. Check it out on google and let me know what you think! Fran

Candice September 15, 2009, 11:40 am

Well, thanks for the honest info on the Robina’s. I was online, just about to order one, when I read your comments on the Robinas. I need to replace a sick maple tree that shades our deck, and want something fast growing, unusual, and beautiful (hopefully w/a season of bloom and good fall color). I do NOT want branches falling on our deck or our house! Any suggestions??Thanks!

Dear Candice,

It is unfortunate because it’s a stunning tree. If you didn’t need it as a tree, I would suggest pruning it back to use as a shrub. My one of my favorites is Coruns Kousa, wonderful spring blooms with excellent fall color. You might also want to check out Redbud. Cericidiphyllum japonic: It is one my all time favorite trees. Also check out Parrotia persica. I wouldn’t worry as much about fast growing specimens as getting the tree that you want that will work in the location where you are planting it. Fran

Dylan December 16, 2009, 4:36 am

Thanks for the heads up. I have a standardized robinia in the front yard of a house I have only recently moved in to. I thought something was awry when I was vacuuming in a back room and noticed a sucker popping up through the ducted heating vent, some 40 feet from the tree. The compound leaves gave the culprit away.

Then I noticed that the storm water pipes from our house are blocked. Whodunnit? You guessed it. The Robinia.

I won’t cut the tree out. I can do a lot of these sort of repairs myself and I don’t mind the work associated with having such a beautiful tree. But if you have to get a plumber in every time your drainage blocks then DO NOT plant this tree.

It’s a fine line between being a horticultural philistine removing every plant that gives you problems and putting in more work than a plant is worth.

Dear Dylan-
What a great story! And you and the tree are lucky that you are handy. Otherwise, I think this wily Robinia would have been dug up (roots and all) been trashed. They are certainly seductive specimens. Appreciate your thoughts. Fran

Barbara June 26, 2010, 8:27 pm

You guys are delightful. And Funny. I have two Frisias in my clay soils in Oregon and neither suckers or seeds or even flowers. I have a regular pseudoacasia in my front yard. I planted it to nitrogenize the soil and to gro fast, fast, fast, while I wait for the Beech, which will be my ultimate front yard tree to grow so slow, slow slow. As to seedlings and suckers – am too busy pulling the million oregon ash, oak, cascarra doug fir, western redcedar and hawthorne seedlings to complain about the locust.

paul February 12, 2015, 4:18 pm

hAVING GROWN UP IN nEW York STATE WHERE black lOCUSTS GROw WILD ALL OVER, SOME TO HEIGHTS OF 75 FEET, I knew that any attempt to control them would be like trying to stunt the growth of a giraffe to forever remain small and cute. But giraffes are wild and and majestic. And black locusts more so.

Janet mcintyre May 2, 2015, 4:16 pm

I have had a purple robe locust for 9 years…robinia pseudoacacia. We have really enjoyed the flowers and it’s rapid growth shading our back deck, but the huge roots that spread ouT from it allow it to grow a new tree in every direction and the flowers are so high now that it isn’t as gorgeous from the deck. I wish I had known that it would spread when I bought it. It is problematic.

Fran Sorin May 3, 2015, 12:12 pm

Janet- I know – it is problematic. The only way I’ve seen this issue addressed is by treating it as a shrub and keeping it tightly pruned. They’ve done it successfully at Chanticleer Gardens – where a Robinia pseudocacia ‘frisia’ is part of a large garden bed. Fran

charlie May 14, 2015, 5:57 pm

Is it possible that your locust trees are just in their awkward teen years? a mature black locust is a magnificent and a group or row of mature locusts can look magical. of course the selected clones might not mature the same.

i am thinking of planting a group of 3 wild black locusts near a stone seating area. i think the airiness, light shade, and rapid growth rate will work out well. of course there will brittle branches, thorns, suckers and seedlings to contend with, but nothing’s perfect.
And the price is right! not many people would complain if someone offered to remove some locust seedlings from their yard!

Fran Sorin May 16, 2015, 1:56 am

When I wrote that article, the trees were already over 20 years old. Believe me, I too love robinias but as I said in the article, there was a cost/benefit ratio in having them in my garden. Like all plant material, their growth habits depend on what climate their being grown in, type of soil, and location in the landscape. Over the years, I’ve talked about chasmanthium being an aggressive perennial grass and have had readers write in to tell them that they find it not aggressive whatsoever. So if you want to place 3 wild black locusts near a stone seating area, go with your instincts and enjoy! Fran

Donn Cave June 6, 2015, 1:28 pm

I stumbled across this page while looking for info on a tree that I cut down this spring, after it had more or less fallen apart in a wind storm. And It had lost a few major branches in prior events, so we can sure see some unfortunate Robinia traits. Now we’re seeing a few sprouts up from roots, but when the tree was intact it wasn’t a problem.

The thing is, I’m not sure of the taxonomy here. From the varying stories I read, it makes me think there might be a couple different things passing as “Purple Robe” (though evidently it’s a registered trademark?) I never noticed any fragrance, and ours didn’t have the bristly stems that the R. hispida crosses do have.

Anyway, one comment mentioned that commercially available stock is grafted on R. pseudoacacia, which has (as you noticed) invasive roots.

Fran Sorin June 10, 2015, 7:32 am

Donn- I would love to see a photo of it. If you have one and can send it to me at: [email protected], that would be great. Write in the subject: ABOUT ROBINIA. thanks. Fran

Elena June 11, 2015, 7:52 pm

here in northern italy black locusts (white flower wild version) are literally everywhere. like diamonds, they’re beautiful, and… they’re forever. no way of getting rid of/containing them. On the nice side, when they bloom entire woods (and miles of roadside) turn white with flowers, and they make delicious honey.

Fran Sorin June 17, 2015, 1:59 am

Elena- Thanks for your comment. I can visualize their beauty. And I didn’t know they made delicious honey. A great tip! Fran

Daisy Debs July 5, 2015, 2:54 am


Fran Sorin July 7, 2015, 11:11 pm

Daisy Debs- Not to worry. I still LOVE Robinias. Just be vigilant to dig up any seedlings as well as keeping the growth of it under control. I suggest that you maintain it as a tallish shrub rather than letting it become a full blown tree- just a suggestion. enjoy! Fran

Sherri Lange July 23, 2015, 8:05 am

Love your passion for gardening which I share full throttle.

Purple robe we find is completely magnificent….not brittle in the lowrr branches and a major survivir. We went through a massive ice storm two years back….only trees completely undamaged were purple robes!!!! As for suckering….we just give the babies to admirers of the trees. Thanks for the discussion!

Fran Sorin July 24, 2015, 6:31 am

Sherri Lange- Thanks for your comments. I’m shocked- and pleasantly surprised that purple robe maintained its integrity in a major ice storm. It is a magnificent tree so your thoughts offer me hope of using it once again in a garden. Have a great rest of the summer. Fran

Debbie March 12, 2016, 7:38 pm

My husband and I were just discussing the beautiful flowering shrub that was in the front yard of the house we moved into when we were first married over 40 years ago, in Aurora, CO. We found out it was a flowering locust with the beautiful purple/pink flowers on it. We lived there for 11 years and my husband dug up the shoots from the lawn many times and transplanted them in several different places because we loved them so much. The bush never got over 5 feet high, but produced an abundance of beautiful flowers. When we moved from that house after 11 years, he took some shoots with us and planted them in the new yard. We lived there for 13 years. He also planted some in the yard of the church we went to for many, many years.
A few more moves later, one including 4 years in South carolina, we now live in Aurora again. The bushes he planted on the church property 20 years ago are still there. Never got more than 5 feet tall. We are in a rental house right now, but last winter, he went over to the church property and dug up 3 shoots to plant here. only Two of them survived the last, heavy snow we got in May.
We love these shrubs/small trees, what ever they really are. When we move from here, we plan on getting more for the next yard.
Many shoots do come up in the yard, but he just mows them down, the y are so worth it, and never get too big. Too bad more people haven’t had the same kind we did, and still do.
Here is a link to the Google map location of the church property where they are planted. The bushes around the base of the tree are the locust, not the large tree:

Cor April 10, 2016, 3:39 pm

I like Robinia – a lot! I planted 17,000 of them on approx 9 acre farm land, to grow as hardwood trees (crop) over a period of 20-40 years.
I can confirm that their blossom is beautiful and in years that they bloom abundantly, a nearby bee keeper moves his hives to my land to capture the very tasty “Acacia” honey, he usually gives me 1-2 jars as a thank you for allowing his bees on my land.
I don’t see much problems with suckers or breakage, probably because this is a quite continuous wooded area, so there is not much front that catches all the wind like a lone tall tree would. Occasionally a branch might break off a tree in a fall storm but that is to be expected. Also, the dense planting (5 ft between trees) forces them to grow up (maximizing straight trunk) and while maturing, it will self-select the stronger trees by killing smaller/weaker ones from contending for space and light. This can be assisted by selective thinning. The black locust is common in most of Europe, although I also see it in the wild in USA.

Fran Sorin April 20, 2016, 6:32 am

Cor- 17,000 you planted? Oh my goodness, how stunning! I had no idea that they were grown as hardwood trees. I think you are correct that because they are so thickly planted, there is little opportunity for strong winds to cause breakage. How lucky the beekeeper is that lives close to you. Thanks for sharing your experience! Fran

rod April 30, 2016, 6:14 am

this tree is like the terminator and a menace to all gardeners…dont be fooled by its beauty

Fran Sorin May 2, 2016, 6:41 am

Rod- It is a seductive devil, isn’t it?

rod May 6, 2016, 12:39 am

yes Fran tis. I have since learned that they can be obtained without the thorns….this would be a better option for anyone gamed enough to plant them in their garden (;-)).
a link to show how the roots are also a problem being either damaging to paths,lawns,also if you cut part of the root off the tree canopy can die which looks horrendous https://www.google.com.au/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=9&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwiqgvGlz8TMAhWFMKYKHeBsDecQFgg1MAg&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.burkesbackyard.com.au%2Ffact-sheets%2Fin-the-garden%2Fgardening-tips-books-techniques-and-tools%2Frobinia-problems%2F&usg=AFQjCNGxB1LYJXtvbDPdDXADkOOOXsq_og&sig2=Me_xiVtZThVDbWKL54e7Xw

Fran Sorin May 14, 2016, 7:37 am

Hey Rod, Thanks so much for that link and your information on how to keep robinias from going awry! They will always have a place in my heart! Fran

Kevin C May 27, 2016, 8:33 am

Robinia pseudoacacia is a Native tree to the Great lakes and more easterly area. Though it poses reseeding and perhaps suckering characteristics, it could never be an invasive species, especially in its native range. That term is very dangerous!

Janet M McIntyre May 27, 2016, 3:53 pm


Fran Sorin May 31, 2016, 2:50 am

How I know that feeling!! Be prepared for the suckers to continue. I don’t know of any way to eradicate them permanently. If anyone does, please chime in. My advice is to continue what you’re doing and just keep digging them up as you see them.

Fran Sorin May 31, 2016, 2:51 am

Kevin C- Thanks for your reminder about choosing words carefully. I will need to go back and re-read that article (written several years ago).

Renée Wolfe July 19, 2016, 10:08 am

We have 4 Purple robe’s in our back yard. They were here when we bought the place, they are planted approximately 8 ft apart and are now 12-15 ft high – still young. I was concerned about the closeness to each other and was considering transplantation 2 of them. We installed a good irrigation system to them a few years ago as this area was experiencing a drought. We live in a semi-arid area that bordered on desert climate for several years. The trees have thrived with the drip system, are stunningly beautiful in the spring and provide ample shade for our dogs – (we raise Chesapeake Bay retrievers). I have trimmed back the lower, droopy branches to give them a nicer shape and also take out the smaller branches that will cause excessive weight on the branches in the future. We have not experienced any suckers and I think we will just leave them alone even though they are close together, as we don’t want to deal with suckers. Because of our dry,hot climate, these trees are appreciated … Shade is ALWAYS a good thing!

Fran Sorin July 20, 2016, 7:57 am

Dear Renee,

I had purple robes in my front yard and people would drive past and stare at them….they were so magnificent. I’m surprised that you needed a drip irrigation system with Robinias….even in a drought. You’re smart to trim the lower branches to help maintain their shape. It sounds like you’ve got them under control. Thanks for commenting! Fran

gordon james wanless July 31, 2016, 6:57 am


Fran Sorin August 2, 2016, 8:21 am

Oh yes indeed….prolifically….sorry to tell you that. good luck!! Fran

Eva September 25, 2016, 2:59 pm

This lovely tree is a nightmare! i Will never ever plant it again! Only in a traffic island or some other Place where it cannot run away. (Sorry, not able to Write Capital letters here) regards from Eva, Norway.

larry czainski January 22, 2017, 2:56 pm

oh Fran just sit back, have a drink & relax in your purple robe smelling the beautifully fragrant flowering brackets…nothing is without it’s downside. Once one loses one’s sight ones other senses need stimulation.

Fran Sorin February 2, 2017, 6:09 am


Love your comment! Thanks for the reminder…and yes, Robinia pseudocacias are visually beautiful and offer an intoxicating scent. Fran

Olga June 9, 2017, 3:33 pm

Hi, my neighbour has a majestic specimen of black locust with white beautiful flowers. He planted it on the corner of his corner lot, it doesn’t have suckers, but once in a while he would find a seedling starting to grow. When we had ice storms, some branches would break. I wish I could attach a photo of it. I think it might be suitable for some areas, but definitely not for a small garden, or not right next to your house. You can see this tree in bloom on google maps here https://www.google.ca/maps/@43.7155098,-79.6927954,3a,75y,53.02h,78.9t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sa5sqjfe3wam3nw6u_drvwg!2e0!7i13312!8i6656?hl=en

Twila Ramsey March 23, 2018, 12:28 pm

Yes, they are considered invasive here in East Texas. Very, very difficult to be ridded of this fast spreader that returns from some long forgotten or buried source after ten or twenty years. Timber grower hate them . They are okay along rural roadsides where the highway department mows them down a couple of time a year.

maryann Canchola June 19, 2018, 3:31 pm

When I bought my purple robe tree, I was told there would be no thorns! Full of thorns!! Each new tree also has thorns.

Matt Pizzuti July 14, 2018, 9:10 pm

Robinia hispida is a nice dwarf tree with pink flowers and the exact same look as a purple robe locust, but a compact form that only gets 10 feet high.

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