Looking like miniature bunches of bananas, the unique seed clusters of the happy tree, Camptotheca acuminata, dangle in great numbers from this Chinese native like ornaments on a Christmas tree.
Growing up to 75 feet tall, this close relative of our native blackgum bears spherical heads of tiny white flowers in the summer that remind me of little sputnik satellites.
The happy tree has been long used in traditional Chinese medicine for the treatment of psoriasis, liver and stomach ailments and common colds. In the 1930s, United States Department of Agriculture scientists discovered Camptotheca’s anti-cancer potential.
Today, Camptotheca-based cancer drugs collectively account for about $1 billion in sales annually and its demand by the pharmaceutical industry has decimated native tree populations in China.
The name happy tree is a direct translation of the Chinese name xi (to be happy) shu (tree) and a nice specimen can be found fruiting now on the Armstrong campus in front of Hawes Hall.