They are a popular tree in gardens and parks, especially as they can be trained to grow over pergolas and trellis to great effect. The wood is traditionally used in cabinet making as well as musical instruments, especially Great Highland bagpipes. Many species of butterfly and moth rely on laburnum as a food source during their larval stage.
However, this tree does have a dark side. Every part of it, bark, flowers, seeds and leaves are deadly poisonous. This is particularly worrisome as the seed pods that form when the flowers die, resemble pea pods. This is mostly due to an alkaloid, cytisine. When ingested this causes vomitting, diarrhea, convulsions, coma and sometimes death. There have been anecdotal reports of kittens dying from using laburnum bark as a scratching post. There have fortunately been no recorded deaths in the UK this century from laburnum poisoning, so there is no need to chop your trees down, just tell your children not to eat “peas” from trees.
Indeed, it has proved impossible to find any hard evidence of laburnum killing people at all, outside of fiction, such as Daphne Du Maurier’s “My Cousin Rachel”. Perhaps the tree is just so foul tasting that nobody would be able to eat sufficient quantities to cause anything worse than a dash to the lavatory. So, sit back and enjoy the beauty of the laburnum tree and leave fiendish poisoning plots to the queens of melodrama