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Katsura Tree in Autumn - Colour, Light & Other Good Things

This post is my contribution to Gayla's “Seven things (plus some extra fun things at the end)” meme.

Katusura tree on Thanksgiving

Katsura Tree, Thanksgiving 2007

Seven reasons why the Katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) is my favourite tree* in autumn:

1) Leaf colours -- Not only does the foliage change gradually from green to pale yellow to apricot throughout October but on a on mid-autumn day, a single leaf can be variegated with all these hues plus tinged with a rose-to-plum blush.

Katsura Leaves & Raindrops

Katusura tree in October

Rosy blush on yellow Katsura leaves


2) Sunlight filtered through translucent leaves -- Prettiest in the morning, especially after a rain shower in late September and viewed from the under-side.

Sun after rain, the light at the end of September


3) Orange hearts fluttering against a blue sky -- Blue and orange is my favourite, complementary colour scheme. It boosts my energy and my spirits.

Orange on deep blue


4) A golden glow -- I captured this image last year in late October on a rare, sunny day. Today, on this more typical West Coast rainy, gray fall day, I'm wondering if I can use it for phototherapy.

Autumn Katsura

5) Foliage and habit -- Though they aren't just autumn features, at this time of year I especially notice the heart-shaped leaves, the gracefully arching limbs, and the elegant shape katsura maintains from youth to maturity.

Autumn Katsura

As one source writes:

Katsura Tree in Autumn

The leaves of katsura tree are its main delight, hanging languidly from branches and fluttering as easily as poplar leaves in the slightest breeze....
Softly arching branching creates a pyramidal habit in youth, which generally matures to a more widely spreading crown with age (Source: The Year in Trees: Superb Woody Plants for Four-Season Gardens)


6) Tradition  -- Every Thanksgiving, I photograph the tree in my Mom's yard. The photo below is from this year; the one at the beginning of this post is from 2007.

Thanksgiving tree

Douglas Justice's poetic description, which I found last night in a Google Search for botanical information, is as brilliant as the katsura this past Thanksgiving Sunday:

When the fates conspire and the colours emerge, katsuras are like fireballs: all saturated red, pink, orange and blackening maroon, like a simmering furnace of molten metals and slag.

7) Tend the Earth, Mend the Spirit, Stretch & Strengthen the Body -- A favourite book's title and missing Pilates classes during my vacation inspired this reason. Perhaps if I had to rake leaves from more than one medium-sized katsura I wouldn't find "tending" consistently pleasant, let alone therapeutic, but I truly enjoyed the daily leaf-raking ritual while I was visiting my mom for two weeks. It was good for my mind and spirit as I practiced being in the present moment (inhale/rake, exhale/rake, focus on the task at hand, "all will be well"). It was good for my body, as I applied (correctly, I hope) various Pilates' principles to bending, stretching and lifting.

Piper Thanksgiving 2007


(* I need to qualify this as "my favourite too-big-for-the-balcony tree." My favourite balcony-suitable tree is the Japanese maple Acer palmatum 'Inaba Shidare'. This fall, though, I've spent more time with katsura -- by necessity rather than choice -- a tree that's been a joy and comfort during some difficult days.)


Reader Comments (8)

such beautiful serene shots. i especially love the droplets of water gracing the leaf edges. all of our leaves are rapidly dropping leaving bare branches behind. thankfully the evergreens are helping make the woods look a little less naked. have a very lovely autumn!!

October 18, 2009 | Unregistered Commentera tasteful garden

Lovely photos! My favorite thing about Katsuras is that caramelized sugar smell the fallen leaves have when you rub them in your hands. My hands smell like sugar for hours!

October 18, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteralexis

Beautiful tree, especially with the light through the leaves. Even the bark is nice. Pilates raking with your dog looks like a great way to relax.

October 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterArwen from Hoglet K

Hi everyone. I was away on the weekend and returned to find these three lovely comments. I spent a good chunk of the weekend with the subject of this post and a rake -- katsura dropped nearly all it's remaining leaves during a heavy rainstorm.

Allison, I know you've enjoyed a gorgeous fall colour display -- I've seen your beautiful photos on your blog. I agree with you about evergreens -- not terribly showy but reliable and of course, green.

Hi Alexis. I had read about the smell but couldn't detect any aroma -- but now, thanks to you, I realize you have to rub the leaves. Oh, I wish I would have done that yesterday -- it would have added another sensory pleasure to leaf-raking. Today, I'm feeling a bit of sensory discomfort -- tired muscles.

Arwen, how is Spring in your part of the world? Yes, I agree with you about the bark -- I like it, too. Yes, Piper is good company while raking. I also had croaking frogs and a squawking Stellar's Jay join me for part of the morning, sight and sounds I don't often see in the big city.

October 19, 2009 | Registered CommenterElaine

Elaine, I just figured it out over the weekend myself on a visit to the Japanese Gardens. The other people in the parking lot probably thought I was crazy.
You say you photograph your mom's tree every year - do you have a sense of the growth rate? I have the katsura on my short list for the tree we are adding to our yard, but the information I've found on how quickly they grow seems to be mixed. I have yet to see a large one in person.

October 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteralexis

Hi Alexis.

I'm not really sure how to describe the growth rate. It was planted 10 years ago, just after the house was built, and the rate seems to be "average" for a tree. I hate to discourage you but when mature, the katsura tree is probably too large for the front yard of most city lots -- it's too large for my mom's yard but it's a "legacy" tree so she has to live with it. Not unhappily as it provides welcome shade in summer, but it's going to be a costly tree as this month she will be having it pruned by a professional arborist. Likely it will need pruning every few years to keep it under control.

The katsura is probably better suited for a generously sized lot. My mom previously lived in a house on a third of an acre and it would have been better suited for this property.

And if you choose it make sure your neighbours don't mind leaves! This tree drops A LOT.

October 21, 2009 | Registered CommenterElaine

leaves in these pictures remember autumn. a season that not much is due to pollution

April 18, 2010 | Unregistered Commentergerovital

This is tree in Autumn is amazing, what a beautiful image I could get from here, actually I had to go the pharmacy but now I'll stay here admiring the beauty of this tree.

August 31, 2011 | Unregistered Commentertorelli

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