Fall Favorite – The Katsura Tree
I must have raised a few eyebrows as I went around the nursery sniffing like a bloodhound. I just couldn't figure it out. I knew I could smell cotton candy (UK translation – candy floss) but there were none to be seen, yet that sweet sugar and cinnamon fragrance was wafting all around me. In confusion I mentioned it to one of the nursery staff who laughed and pointed me to the towering tree above me – a katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum). Sure enough the richly colored, heart-shaped leaves that were falling like confetti all around me were the source of this wonderful fall fragrance.
That was about 16 years ago and I've been waiting for a garden to plant one in ever since, finally getting my wish last year. As my husband and I walked through the field to choose the perfect tree last fall I found myself dreaming of hot apple cider and pumpkin bread! Maybe this tree will prove a bad idea for the waist line.
Katsura trees are native to Asia but have become a popular tree in many other parts of the world where they can be afforded moisture retentive soil, full sun or very light shade, rich acidic soil and temperatures which fall in the range -30’F to 20’F (USDA zones 4-9)
How to use
In the garden they look perfect lining a driveway, as a specimen lawn tree or providing height in a large mixed border. Here in the Seattle area they are also a popular sidewalk tree where their roots do not cause the damage of older choices such as cherry trees and their pyramidal form allows easy passage of both vehicles and pedestrians (although in maturity they tend to assume a more spreading shape).
The typical katsura tree matures at over 40’ and 25’ wide, growing 12-18” per year but smaller gardens can take advantage of the newer introduction 'Red Fox'. This has a tight columnar form clothed in deep burgundy leaves during spring and summer before transforming to shades of harvest gold in fall when they release their characteristic burnt sugar aroma. The bark is a shaggy brown.
'Heronswood Globe' is a dwarf, rounded form which grows to just 20’ x 20’ and has green foliage which turns shades of rose and apricot in autumn. This is a low growing tree, often with its branches just 2’ off the ground.
The weeping katsura is a beautiful tree with a dense crown and blue-green foliage which turns bright yellow in fall. It grows slowly to 20’ tall and 15’ wide
Year round interest
Although perhaps at it’s finest in fall, the katsura has plenty to contribute in other seasons too. Spring sees the emergence of reddish-purple leaves which slowly darken to an attractive blue-green. The winter silhouette is a welcome addition to the winter garden as is the handsome bark.
Wherever you plant them be sure it is somewhere that you can enjoy their fragrance – and watch your visitors try to identify the source of that wonderful spicy aroma!
I often confuse these with Cercis canadensis, which is understandable given the Latin name. The leaves are very similar. It's a beautiful tree, and I didn't realize it had such a strong scent. There are so many great trees to choose from, I wish I had way more than just 1/3 acre.
Alison, maybe you can squeeze in one of the more compact cultivars?
I am going on a hunt to find one of these beauties for our gardens. I love the fact that there is a fragrance. I'm so glad I found your blog, I would never have considered this tree. Thank you!
Sandi – I'm glad you found it too! Keep an eye out for next weeks post with even more fragrant fall favorites!
So we have both been sniffing around like bloodhounds! The weeping Katsura has been on my wish list for a while. I think fragrance is an important dimension to a garden, too often overlooked. I hope your own tree is prospering in your beautiful new garden!
[…] of you enjoyed last week’s post on the katsura tree, loving its caramel apple scent as much as I do. Did you know that there are also several shrubs […]
I just planted a "Red Fox' this summer, disappointed that I am not going to enjoy the burnt sugar smell (my favourite) while I am living in Barbados, oh well, it will just mature during the time I am here, and be even more glorious when I move back to Canada.
[…] nice photos and useful information are found at le jardinet. I don't see katsura on the street tree list for the City of Portland, but Friends of Trees […]