If you have ever been up close and personal with a katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) then you already knew what I was going to talk about by the title of today’s post. Yes, as the leaves are changing color in autumn, standing underneath a katsura tree, you get the aroma of cotton candy or caramelized sugar. That is not the only reason to grow Cercidiphyllum but it is one of the best. This tree is happiest in a bright location, preferably almost all day sun. Having a bright location allows the tree to become dense in its growth habit and truly enriches its fall color. I have always been told that katsura tree needs a damp yet well drained location until established. Otherwise, it will drop its leaves in late August or early September, especially if there has been a dry summer. I have observed this happen in the south and along the mid-Atlantic but I have to add an asterisk to this assumption. This is not true here in coastal Maine. We have several trees planted around the gardens here at CMBG and they are real aristocrats all summer and into fall. The fall color for our trees started this year in early October and is just wrapping up this week. I realize that this has been a remarkable autumn in New England but our trees are in what I would consider relatively dry locations. Maybe it is the cooler summer temperatures that they prefer. Regardless, these are some of the finest trees that you can grow.
The leaves are round and spring green, the bark is slightly exfoliating, and the tree form is upright and slightly pyramidal. It is, in many respects, the perfect tree for the New England garden. Sure, it is not native and it does not have a showy flower, but with a great form and leaves that smell of cotton candy in the fall, more folks should be including it into their landscape. As for the cultural specifics, it is hardy from USDA zones 4 to 8 and will ultimately reach a mature landscape size of 40-60 feet in height. There are numerous cultivars available in commerce. We added ‘Tidal Wave’ (a weeping form) and ‘Rotfuchs’ (or ‘Red Fox’ a red leaved form) this spring to the garden. I am hoping to add ‘Heronswood Globe’ in the near future. It is a smaller, compact and rounded head form selected from the former Heronswood gardens of Dan Hinkley and Robert Jones in Washington state.
This winter, while shopping for plants, I will be looking for new and interesting selections of katsura tree. Are there some fantastic cultivars that you are growing that you think we should add?