Robinia have pendulous racemes of beautiful butterfly-like, fragrant flowers that range from dusky white to pale pink and dark purple. These attractive trees, commonly called False Acacia or Black Locust, make great specimen trees and are particularly popular for oriental style gardens.
The attractive pea-like flowers and pinnate leaves differ in colour between varieties. For the pinkest flowers, look at Robinia × margaretta 'Pink Cascade', whilst for yellow foliage, see Robinia pseudoacacia 'Frisia’.
As Black Locust trees are tolerant of pollution and of great value to wildlife, they are commonly planted in parks and chosen for avenue planting in towns and cities. The flowers are popular with pollinating insects, whilst rabbits, squirrels and birds eat the seeds. However, the bark, seeds and leaves are toxic to humans and cattle.
Robinia pseudoacacia trees are native to south-eastern U.S, but have since been naturalised to Europe and other parts of the world. The name Robinia was used in honour of Jean Robin and his son Vespasien Robin who were herbalists to King Henry IV of France. Jean Robin was the first person to introduce this tree to Europe from North America. False Acacia is a literal translation of Pseudoacacia which is in reference to the similarities these trees share with the Acacia species.
One of the first trees to be planted in the Original Kew Gardens was a False Acacia tree, planted in 1762 and still standing today. Planted over 250 years ago and now supported by metal bands, this tree is expected to live for at least another 50 years.
Many parts of this tree are used in cultivation and throughout different cultures. In America and France where the climate is warmer, the flowers produce good amounts of nectar for bees to make honey. The honey from Black Locust trees is thought to be superior to most others and called Acacia Honey. In France and Italy the flowers are used for making beignets (fritters) and are fried in batter.
Robinia are resistant to rot and produce hard, strong wood which has been used in furniture making, flooring and fences. It is also used as a firewood because it burns slowly, producing very little smoke and will even burn when wet.
As part of the Pea family, False Acacia trees have nitrogen fixing bacteria in their roots so they will grow on, and enrich, poor soils. Because of this they also make good early colonizers for disturbed land.