PLANT: Golden rain tree is the common name for Koeleuteria elegans, formerly Koeleuteria formosana.
ORIGIN: Formosa (now Taiwan).
CHARACTERISTICS: Fall color for about three months includes terminal clusters (panicles) of small bright yellow flowers which very soon turn into even showier rosy pink, papery bracts that cover seed capsules. The display can be spectacular; the downside is many, many seedlings. They come up after masses of seed capsules turn brown and fall. This member of the Sapindaceae family is usually less than 40 feet high and 30 feet wide with irregular, spreading branches. Shallowly toothed and pointed light green leaflets up to 3 inches long make up compound leaves.
GROWING TIPS: Though not salt tolerant, this cold-hardy tree is tolerant of most soils and is easy to grow. Removing leaves and debris may help reduce the number of seedlings. Although growth is moderate to fast, most trees in the Tampa Bay area are relatively small.
SHOWN: This huge tree is unusually tall, full crowned and symmetrical. It has towered over Lockhart's Supermarket at Fifth Avenue and 37th Street N in St. Petersburg as long as anyone can recall. That includes 90-year-old Hazel Lockhart. She started the business, which is still in the family, owned and operated now by her nephew Kent Carrol and wife, Diane. The supermarket is painted pink, a color that enhances the tree's beauty.
_ Bette Smith, Times gardening correspondent