Pongam is a fast-growing evergreen tree which reaches 40 feet in height wit up to a 55-foot spread, forming a broad, spreading canopy casting moderate shade. The six- to nine-inch-long, pinnately compound, shiny dark green leaves are briefly deciduous, dropping for just a short period of time in early spring but being quickly replaced by new growth. Pongam is at its finest in the spring 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 ¼-2-inch-long, brown seedpods are poisonous, a fact which should be considered in placing the tree in the landscape, if many children are present.
Scientific name: Millettia pinnata
Pronunciation: mil-LET-ee-uh pih-NAY-tuh
Common name(s): Pongam, Karum tree, poonga-oil tree
USDA hardiness zones: 10B through 11 (Figure 2)
Origin: native to southeast Asia, Australia, and the western Pacific Islands
UF/IFAS Invasive Assessment Status: invasive and not recommended except for "specified and limited" use approved by the UF/IFAS Invasive Plant Working Group (North, Central, South)
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
Height: 30 to 40 feet
Spread: 30 to 55 feet
Crown uniformity: symmetrical
Crown shape: round
Crown density: dense
Growth rate: fast
Leaf arrangement: alternate
Leaf type: odd-pinnately compound; made up of 5-9 leaflets but most often 7
Leaf margin: entire
Leaf shape: elliptic (oval)
Leaf venation: pinnate
Leaf type and persistence: evergreen
Leaf blade length: 6 to 8 inches; leaflets are 3 to 4 inches
Leaf color: dark green and shiny on top, paler green underneath
Fall color: no color change
Fall characteristic: not showy
Flower color: white, pink, or lavender
Flower characteristics: somewhat fragrant; pea-like; emerges in clusters on 5-10" long, lateral and terminal racemes
Flowering: spring to summer
Fruit shape: oval to flat pod, with a curved and pointed tip
Fruit length: 1 ¼ to 2 inches
Fruit covering: dry or hard
Fruit color: yellow to brown
Fruit characteristics: does not attract wildlife; showy; fruit/leaves a litter problem; indehiscent
Fruiting: fall to spring
Trunk and Branches
Trunk/branches: branches droop; not showy; typically multi-trunked; no thorns
Bark: gray to brown and smooth or slightly roughened
Pruning requirement: needed for strong structure
Current year twig color: green
Current year twig thickness: thin
Wood specific gravity: unknown
Light requirement: full sun to partial shade
Soil tolerances: clay; sand; loam; slightly alkaline; acidic; well-drained
Drought tolerance: high
Soil salt tolerance: moderate to high
Aerosol salt tolerance: moderate to high
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.
No pests are of major concern, but caterpillars occasionally cause some defoliation.
No diseases are of major concern.
Koeser, A.K., Friedman, M.H., Hasing, G., Finley, H., Schelb, J. 2017. Trees: South Florida and the Keys. University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.