Cotton Candy This Fall?

     Often I get up on my soapbox and preach about planting trees that are too big in areas that are too small. Maples, ash, oaks and beech which are planted under power lines or up against buildings, depriving them of their potential growth. Norway Spruce, White Pines, Douglas Fir and most notably Leyland Cypress planted 5 feet apart from one another to create a wind screen or privacy hedge. Wrong, wrong, wrong!! While these are all beautiful trees, they have a place where they belong. Planting any of these too close to one another or up against a building or home will lead to manmade augmentation of something that is naturally beautiful. What’s worse is that far too often these plants become butchered by sub standard pruning practices often going to the lowest bidder or an overzealous “weekend warrior.” Enough about this though! With enough real estate, time and a little patience, you have a huge palate afforded to you as to what specimen you would like to fill the void. For me it was Katsuratree, Cercidiphyllum japonicum.

Years ago I had the good fortune of visiting the Bloedel Reserve. I have made reference to this gorgeous sanctuary before, but such an inspirational piece of landscape bears repeating. The Bloedel Reserve is located on Bainbridge Island in Washington State. Specifically, on the north end, this former residential estate is now run by The Arbor Fund. 150 acres of specialty gardens and second growth forest will leave you inspired and eager to run home and garden. Among the French architecture and European style gardens, stood a specimen of such grandeur that I had to find a place on my property for one.

Right in the middle of our front lawn, far away from any structured boundary, is our Katsuratree. Flanked by a wave of Foerster’s Feather Reed Grass, Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’, on the west side of our property sits our “will be” giant. I mention the west side of the property because while we installed a good size specimen, it will continue to grow to some 40 to 50 feet tall and 20-30 feet wide. Already diffusing sunlight into our dining room towards the end of the day, sitting in that room full of windows, leaves us with breathtaking views all year long. Native to China and Japan, Katsuratree is hardy from zones 4-8. Notable to mention is that our front lawn seemed to remain slightly damp after heavy rains, perfect for Katsura as they require a bit more water early on to establish. As this majestic, deciduous tree develops, a dense, pyramidal outline of bluish-green foliage is visible all summer long. Prior to this, in early spring, the leaves emerge tinged in a purplish-red and finish with yellows and apricot markings in the fall. Eagerly, I wait this fall for what many have likened the falling foliage to, a spicy cinnamon, burnt sugar, ripe apples or cotton candy smell. To date, ours has not produced such a culinary odor, but I am hopeful. One other note about the leaves is that they are similar in form to that of Redbud, in that they are somewhat round to heart-shaped. While tolerant to a number of soils, Katsura prefers moist, well drained ones. Finally, the bark is a great winter interest feature. Initially, the bark is quite smooth with fairly prominent lenticels “a small corky spot on young bark made up of loosely packed cells, providing gaseous exchange between the inner tissues and the atmosphere”, (Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, Michael Dirr, however, with time, develops into rather handsome, brown, shaggy bark splitting into thin curling strips.

Here are a few cultivars to be on the look out for. ‘Heronswood Globe’ is a perfect, small, globe-shaped tree. Fall markings include creamy-yellows and pinks and should finish nicely around 15 feet. We have Heronswood Nursery in Kingston, Washington to thank for this beauty. ‘Rotfuchs’, Red Fox in German, is in our yard separating us from our neighbors. Incredible, dark purple leaves emerge in the spring and eventually digresses to a purple-glaucous blue. Defined by its very narrow, upright habit, the foliage has a coarse, eucalyptus-like feel to it.

This ancient genus has survived for millions of years. With little known pests or problems, Katsura is destined to become a huge tree over time. Patiently, I wait for the fall scent, outstanding color markings of apricot and yellow, and perhaps the purples and reds which some have noted as well.