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Publication #ENH657

Pongamia pinnata: Pongam1

Edward F. Gilman and Dennis G. Watson2

Introduction

Pongam is a fast-growing evergreen tree which reaches 40 feet in height and spread, forming a broad, spreading canopy casting moderate shade. The three-inch-long, pinnately compound, glossy green leaves are briefly deciduous, dropping for just a short period of time in early spring but being quickly replaced by new growth. In spring, Pongam is at its finest when the showy, hanging clusters of white, pink, or lavender, pea-like, fragrant blossoms appear, the clusters up to 10 inches long. These beautiful blossoms and the glossy, nearly-evergreen leaves help make Pongam a favorite for use as a specimen, shade, or windbreak. It has also been planted as a street tree, but dropping pods often litter the ground. However, the seeds which are contained within the oval, 1.5-inch-long, brown seedpods are poisonous, a fact which should be considered in placing the tree in the landscape, if many children are present.

Figure 1. 

Middle-aged Pongamia pinnata: Pongam


Credit:

Ed Gilman


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

General Information

Scientific name: Pongamia pinnata
Pronunciation: pawn-GAM-ee-uh pih-NAY-tuh
Common name(s): Pongam, Karum Tree, Poonga-Oil Tree
Family: Leguminosae
USDA hardiness zones: 10B through 11 (Fig. 2)
Origin: not native to North America
Invasive potential: According to the IFAS Assessment of the Status of Non-Native Plants in Florida's Natural Areas (Fox et al. 2005), Pomgamia pinnata (pongam) may be used with caution in southern Florida1, but should be managed to prevent its escape (counties are listed by zone at: http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/assessment ); and is not considered a problem species and may be used in the northern and central zones of Florida.
1Current assessment is incomplete; please check for updated information at: http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/assessment
Uses: specimen; shade; deck or patio; highway median; street without sidewalk; tree lawn 4-6 feet wide; tree lawn > 6 ft wide; parking lot island 100-200 sq ft; parking lot island > 200 sq ft
Availability: not native to North America

Figure 2. 

Range


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Description

Height: 35 to 40 feet
Spread: 30 to 40 feet
Crown uniformity: symmetrical
Crown shape: round
Crown density: dense
Growth rate: fast
Texture: medium

Foliage

Leaf arrangement: alternate (Fig. 3)
Leaf type: odd-pinnately compound
Leaf margin: entire
Leaf shape: elliptic (oval)
Leaf venation: pinnate
Leaf type and persistence: evergreen
Leaf blade length: less than 2 inches, 2 to 4 inches
Leaf color: green
Fall color: no color change
Fall characteristic: not showy

Figure 3. 

Foliage


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Flower

Flower color: pink, lavender, white/cream/gray
Flower characteristics: showy

Fruit

Fruit shape: pod or pod-like, elongated
Fruit length: 1 to 3 inches
Fruit covering: dry or hard
Fruit color: brown
Fruit characteristics: does not attract wildlife; showy; fruit/leaves a litter problem

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/bark/branches: branches droop; not showy; typically multi-trunked; thorns
Pruning requirement: needed for strong structure
Breakage: resistant
Current year twig color: green
Current year twig thickness: thin
Wood specific gravity: unknown

Culture

Light requirement: full sun
Soil tolerances: clay; sand; loam; slightly alkaline; acidic; well-drained
Drought tolerance: high
Aerosol salt tolerance: moderate

Other

Roots: not a problem
Winter interest: no
Outstanding tree: no
Ozone sensitivity: unknown
Verticillium wilt susceptibility: unknown
Pest resistance: resistant to pests/diseases

Use and Management

Pongam should be grown in full sun or partial shade on well-drained soil. A relatively low-maintenance tree once established, Pongam is resistant to high winds and drought but is susceptible to freezing temperatures below 30-degrees F. Pongam will show nutritional deficiencies if grown on soil with a pH above 7.5.

Space major limbs along the trunk to increase the structural strength of the tree. Keep limbs less than two-thirds the diameter of the trunk to help ensure that branches are well secured to the tree.

Propagation is by seed.

Pests

No pests are of major concern, but caterpillars occasionally cause some defoliation.

Diseases

No diseases are of major concern.

Footnotes

1.

This document is ENH657, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date November 1993. Revised April 2007. Reviewed February 2014. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

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.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.