They are small to medium-sized deciduous trees typically growing 10–20 m tall, exceptionally to 27 m tall. The leaves are compound pinnate, with 5–17 alternately arranged leaflets. The flowers are fragrant, white or pink, produced in racemes or panicles 15–40 cm long. The fruit is a pod 3–8 cm long, containing one to six seeds.
Cladrastis is related to the genus Maackia, from which it differs in having the buds concealed in the leaf base, and in the leaflets being arranged alternately on the leaf rachis, not in opposite pairs. The genus name derives from the Greek klados, branch, and thraustos, fragile, referring to the brittle nature of the twigs. The combination of Cladrastis, Pickeringia and Styphnolobium form a clade known as the Cladrastis clade; as the other two originated from within Cladrastis, Cladrastis is paraphyletic.
- Cladrastis kentukea (Dum. Cours.) Rudd (syn. C. lutea). Southeastern North America.
- Cladrastis platycarpa (Maxim.) Makino. Japan.
- Cladrastis parvifolia C.Y.Ma. Guanxi, China.
- Cladrastis sinensis Hemsl. China, widespread.
- Cladrastis scandens C.Y.Ma. Guizhou, China.
- Cladrastis sikokiana (Makino) Makino. Southern Japan.
- Cladrastis wilsonii Takeda. Central China.
- Wojciechowski, M. F.; Lavin, M.; Sanderson, M. J. (2004). "A phylogeny of legumes (Leguminosae) based on analysis of the plastid matK gene resolves many well-supported subclades within the family". American Journal of Botany 91 (11): 1846–62. doi:10.3732/ajb.91.11.1846. PMID 21652332.
- Andrews, S. (1997). Trees of the Year: Cladrastis and Maakia. Int. Dendrol. Soc. Year Book 1996: 12–26.
- Spongberg, S. A. & Ma, J.-S. (1997). Cladrastis (Leguminosae subfamily Faboideae tribe Sophoreae): a historic and taxonomic overview. Int. Dendrol. Soc. Year Book 1996: 27–35.
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