Cercidiphyllum japonicum


Imagine a gracefully branching tree hung with delicate paper fans fluttering in the lightest of breezes and you will have begun to imagine the delight of Cercidiphyllum japonicum, the Katsuratree. Katsuratree is a large, deciduous tree with beautiful, fan-shaped leaves, similar in outline to the leaves of Redbuds, (hence the botanical name Cercidiphyllum, after the botanical name for Redbud: Cercis ). Katsuratree's leaves hang languidly from the branches and are as easily moved by the breeze as the leaves of Poplar. Katsuratree's beautiful foliage emerges a red-wine color in the spring and rapidly changes to a fresh, blue-green for the late spring and summer. In autumn, the 3 inch wide leaves turn a striking, clear yellow and are sometimes tinged with pastel orange. A unique characteristic of Katsuratree foliage is its strong, spicy fragrance which is released just before the leaves drop in the fall.

The elegant habit of Katsuratrees is as especially pleasing as the foliage. Softly arching branching creates a pyramidal habit in youth which generally matures to a more widely spreading crown with age. Katsuratrees ultimately reach 40 to 80 feet in height but are usually seen in cultivation in the range of 20 to 40 feet with a canopy spread of 20 feet. The smooth, tan bark of young trees is a wonderful foil for the foliage during the growing season and is handsome in its own right in winter. As trees age, the bark develops a more furrowed and shaggy character with some peeling of the bark. The inconspicuous, greenish flowers of Katsuratree emerge in early spring before the leaves. Male and female flowers are borne on separate plants and so trees of each are needed for fertile seed development. Successfully fertilized flowers mature into interesting, winged seeds in dry pods.

Katsuratree can be readily grown in a range of landscape conditions throughout the southeastern US. It is winter hardy from the coast to the mountains and tolerant of most soils as long as it receives adequate moisture and is in full sun. It is sometimes difficult to move and should be balled and burlapped for transplanting with special attention to regular watering during the first year. There are no serious pest or disease problems with this tree. Katsuratree may be readily propagated from seed (which requires no special treatment); from cuttings taken in summer off of very young trees and rooted under mist; or by grafting (the method for propagation of named cultivars).

There are a few named cultivars of Katsuratree but they are not as easily found as the seedling trees. 'Pendula' is a weeping form with branching cascades of the lovely foliage flowing to the ground. 'Nana' is a compact, more slow growing form. C. magnificum 'Pendulum' is a second weeping form of a different botanical group. Both C. japonicum and C. magnificum are Asian in origin. Some botanists classify the two plants as separate species and others call the second tree a botanical variety of the first: C. japonicum var. magnificum. C. magnificum has larger, more rounded leaves than C. japonicum but may not grow ultimately quite as large. Both weeping forms are exceptionally beautiful in the garden.

Katsuratree is a large tree with the rare combination of generous proportions and distinctive elegance in all four seasons of the year. At The NCSU Arboretum (now the JC Raulston Arboretum), several varieties of Katsuratrees grace the gardens with their unique beauty. Come experience the entrancing falls of blue-green foliage that drape Katsuratree among the collections at the Arboretum.