My garden trees: #1 Katsura

We are deep into spring now – – I noted its arrival by the return of swallows, turkey vultures, the song of house finches in my yard, and the appearance of leaves on my katsura tree, Cercidiphyllum japonicum, in the back yard.  I planted this tree 3 years ago, a birthday gift from my youngest brother.  When leaves emerged that first season, I was disappointed to see that they were not the expected bright yellow-green, but burgundy-purple — not my brother’s fault, I made the trip to the nursery.  The tree had the wrong tag on it.  Or, I’m not sure — is there variation in leaf color between individual trees?  I can’t tell if my tree is the ‘Red Fox’ cultivar, which seem very much darker purple than mine.  Rather than exchange it for the colors I prefer (as the nursery offered a year later) my sister urged me to try it out, admiring the darker tones.  I took that opportunity to work on opening my mind to unexpected.  I found myself able to do this because the color does gradually change to green through the season.  So, here it is, after 3 seasons, still with us and my only minor complaint is that it asks for a lot of water in the summer.

Here’s how the colors have changed over the weeks this spring:

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One of the reasons I prefer the green foliage is because it makes a beautiful contrast with the red petioles, visible above.  I’m learning patience.

Autumn photos below don’t quite capture the fiery brilliance of color I observed, but they are still pretty attractive.  It feels really picky to say that I prefer the bright yellow fall foliage shown here.  Really, should I be criticizing anything about the display in the photos below?

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Pictured below is a planting of this species on my regular travels, in front of Kaiser East Interstate at N. Overlook Ave and Center Dr., off N. Interstate Ave.  (Many more are planted along Interstate itself.)  Some planted here show red spring foliage as well.  Intentional mixing, variation between individuals, or mis-tagged at the nursery?  I’d love to understand more about this tree.

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But a few weeks later, the color has become more uniform:

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Here’s an row of matching foliage katsura from the east side of McMenamin’s Kennedy School. The habit is symmetrical, upright and can be pyramidal or globe-like, really attractive for a street tree.

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Here’s some more in front of Garden Fever on NE 24th Ave, just south of Fremont.

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The genus name, Cercidiphyllum, refers to the similarity in leaf shape to the redbud, genus Cercis.  Not difficult to distinguish the two because besides the more open, spreading habit, the first thing you’ll notice in spring with the redbud is this:

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Redbuds have showy flowers and alternate leaf arrangement.  Katsura are characterized by leaves in opposite arrangement and insignificant flowers.

And here’s the weeping form of katsura, ‘Pendulum,’ some shots from the Lan Su Portland Chinese Garden:

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These leaves are the most beautiful green!

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I’m beginning to see a bias toward Japanese trees here in this blog.  I’ll have to move on to other species once I’ve exhausted the ones familiar to me…

More 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 includes it on a list of trees for yards or planting strips 6-8 feet wide without overhead powerlines.  If you’re considering planting a katsura tree, here’s what you might want to know:

  • Deciduous
  • Inconspicuous flowers/fruits, male and female flowers on separate individuals
  • Several cultivars with varying sizes at maturity (and some dwarf and others with a weeping habit)
  • USDA Zones 4 to 9b
  • Regular water
  • Foliage known for spectacular fall color and caramel scent
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4 Responses to My garden trees: #1 Katsura

  1. Julie Fukuda says:

    When we lived in Mejiro, there were two huge Katsura trees on the middle street. (One male and one female). I remember those leaves as being rather pink … like little pink hearts … in the spring and golden yellow in the fall. Our neighborhood has planted katsura trees lining both sides of Mejiro-dori and those are light green in the spring. They have been struggling as young trees but some of the older ones are looking much better this year. There were a few larger trees in Suginami along the river. I rather think they might like water more than some other trees. I have no idea where they grow in nature.

  2. Thank you for acknowledging my post on Le jardinet!

  3. Brenda Vande Voorde says:

    I planted a Katsura last fall and now its struggling this spring, has on tiny spring at the base of the branches and that’s the only sign its alive. Any idea if it will recover and grow? we did have a wet, cool spring but not cooler than most years. I am really excited to have a Katsura tree so I want it to grow. Is there a chance it will recover? My landscaper doesn’t know much about Katsura trees. Thank you

  4. g.b. nobbs says:

    I stumbled across your post while googling about fall color variations in katsura because I have one I planted three years ago which exhibits just the same qualities as you describe. The leaves emerge pink/red in the spring, and remain that way until summertime, when they begin to fade a bit to green, but the young leaves remain red and all the leaves retain a bit of a reddish tint to the edge.
    They never attain the full green color of the other katsura I see around. In the fall the leaves become a VERY bright orange/red—not at all the clear yellow tinted with orange that I see on other katsura.

    Still in its youth, mine is very columnar, and only in the past year has it shown any intentions of spreading its branches in the future. I also wondered at first if mine was the Red Fox variety I’d read about, until I saw one in person at a nursery and laid that suspicion to rest.

    I’m wondering if, while not an officially-recognized cultivar, there may be another variety/lineage with slightly different characteristics.

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