Laburnum’s Lure: Exploring the Symbolism of the Golden Rain Tree

One look at the golden chain tree in bloom and it’s easy to see how Laburnum anagyroides got its common name. In late spring, this small, deciduous tree explodes with long chains of bright, golden yellow flowers. Held on dangling racemes up to 10 inches long, the blossoms fill the air with their sweet fragrance. The tree also figures in art and literature, from the poems of Ted Hughes to Tolkien’s The Silmarillion and Wilde’s A Portrait of Dorian Gray. Here, we’ll take you through everything you need to know about Laburnum flower meaning and symbolism.

Ultimate Guide to Laburnum (Golden chain tree) Meaning

Laburnum (Golden chain tree) Meaning – The Essentials

To the Victorians, the fragrant, yellow flowers of the golden chain tree symbolized pensive beauty. A gift Laburnum flowers might send a message of thoughtful beauty. However, the tree’s toxic nature also underscores another meaning: Forsaken. In this case, a gift of Laburnum flowers may signify a warning that the receiver may soon be forsaken.

Etymological Meaning

Etymological Meaning

Laburnum comes from ancient Latin; some think it stems from “lip.” Anagyroides refers to resembling the Anagryis genus.

The Meaning, Symbolism, and Cultural Significance of Laburnum

The Meaning, Symbolism and Cultural Significance of Laburnum (Golden chain tree)

Laburnum trees have long been prized and cultivated for their long chains of golden blossoms. To the Victorians, the trees symbolized pensive thought.

Perhaps, though, the tree’s toxicity led to its association with another, less positive meaning: Forsaken, pensive beauty. In the language of flowers, a gift of Laburnum blossoms may have meant that the giver felt forsaken. Another possible meaning? That the receiver of the gift was about to be forsaken, by someone else or by society.

Laburnum in Art and Literature

The connection between being forsaken and toxicity is carried over into literature. In Oscar Wilde’s The Portrait of Doran Gray, Laburnum flowers are associated with the character of Lord Henry, who encourages Dorian Gray’s obsession with youth and beauty and pushed Gray to forsake a moral path. Like Lord Henry, Laburnum flowers are attractive yet poisonous. Eventually, Lord Henry’s toxic influence on Gray resulted in Gray being forsaken from society.

Not all mentions of golden chain tree flowers literature are negative, however. In the late 19th century, the poet Francis Thompson described the blossoms as “the honey of wild flame.” J.R.R. Tolkien was believed to have been inspired by the poem, and used the golden chain tree as his inspiration for the magical Laurelin in The Simarillion,

Poet Laureate Ted Hughes also wrote about golden chain tree flowers. His poem The Laburnum Top tells of a tree in fall, leaves fallen and empty. The tree is momentarily brought back to life by a yellow goldfinch, who makes the treetop her home for a beautiful, fleeting moment.

Laburnum (Golden chain tree) FAQs:

Is the golden chain tree poisonous? 

Every part of the golden chain tree is toxic to humans, dogs, cats, and even some livestock. The roots, stem, bark, leaves, flowers, and seeds of the tree contain the alkaloid cytosine, which when ingested can lead to dilated pupils, sleeplessness, vomiting, convulsions, and coma.

Where do Laburnum trees grow? 

Golden chain trees are native to Central and Southeastern Europe, where they grow in cool (but not too cool) areas. The trees are known to be picky, but fast, growers and are hardy in USDA hardiness zones 5b through 7a.

Is a Laburnum evergreen? 

Golden chain trees are not evergreen. They are deciduous, which means they lose their leaves in the fall, are dormant through the winter, and grow foliage and flowers again in spring.

What does Laburnum symbolize? 

In the language of flowers, golden chain tree flowers stand for pensive beauty. They may also mean “forsaken,” so a gift of these flowers may let someone know that you feel forsaken, or that they may feel forsaken.


Golden chain trees add a dramatic explosion of bright color to the spring landscape. With their long, pendulous racemes packed with golden blossoms, it’s easy to see why these deciduous trees have long been popular in the gardens, parks, and fields of the U.K. But the trees’ toxic nature leads to a more complex symbolism. In the language of flowers, the Laburnum signifies pensive beauty, but may also mean “forsaken.” A gift of these beautiful and fragrant flowers may send a complicated message.

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