Thursday, May 26, 2011

Katsura, the moon-tree

Katsura tree is the giant tree existing on the moon according to a Chinese legend. Same motif of the moon-tree exists in Japanese folk tales, also occurring in  "Hagoromo" - a Japanese play, in which  "Katsura tree is a kind of laurel supposed to grow on the moon".  

Cercidiphyllum japonicum - the moon- tree, Katsura tree
Cercidiphyllum japonicum - Katsura, the moon-tree

Katsura tree has one of the most colorful and attractive foliage. Its leaves are heart-shaped which emerge reddish-purple in spring, are transforming in medium green till summer and turning in gold, orange and red in fall. What I like more at this tree? Although it is not an aromatic tree, the fallen autumn leaves have a great smell of burnt sugar with cinnamon and ripe apples notes. Most of the nurseries' katsura trees are male trees, which are more upright. The female trees are more spreading and in spring are bearing tiny reddish flowers which are transforming in clusters of small seeds during summer season. 

Cercidiphyllum japonicum - Katsura heart - shaped foliage
Cercidiphyllum japonicum - Katsura heart - shaped foliage

Named "Cercidiphyllum japonicum", the common Katsura grown as ornamental tree is a deciduous tree with a dense and rounded habit which grow a large canopy in the wild (can reach 40-45 m high) but it is also very common as bonsai.  The seeds are great to be collected in late fall and need light, warmth and moisture soil to germinate. A walking alongside Katsura's  trees alley  from Stanley Park and an inspirational moment made us to sow some seeds gathered last autumn in our minigreenhose (artificial light and temperature around 20-24 degrees celsius).

Katsura branch with leaves and seeds
Katsura branch with leaves and seeds

The Katsura trees are grown not only for decorative purposes. Its hard wood it is used to make chess-boards and Go-boards, and hand carved pieces of furniture.

Going back to the Game of Go origins,  the traditional Japanese Goban (Go-board) was made from Kaya (Torreya nucifera), California Torreya (Torreya californica), Hiba (Thujopsis dolabrata), Katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum), Kauri (Agathis), and Shin-Kaya (various varieties of spruce).

The changing color of leaves during the year is somehow associated with its name. This is why Katsura name was given also to an Acer Palmatum tree with a wonderful spring color.
"Acer Palmatum Katsura" is a cultivar which grows very quickly and its green-orange with redish margins foliage is a favorite of many people in spring, which turns in yellow green in summer and in burning red in fall.

 Red Fox Katsura tree

Anyhow, the  decorative Katsura trees are common near the open spaces for kids to play in Vancouver's parks (I'm still thinking what the reason behind it... could be the candy smell of the leaves in fall or the heart-shape of the foliage)
It is also very popular in garden landscaping in British Columbia, many cultivars being available  in nurseries.

I was amazed to find a cultivar with red foliage year round named " Red Fox Katsura" - its leaf-burning foliage looks really stunning and maybe one day one of these magnificent  flame trees will  became a flame-bonsai ;-) 

We are very fortunate to have a female Katsura tree in one of our friends backyard which provided us access to gather many of this tree seeds.  Let us know if you want to buy some of them (pay by Paypal, ship next day worldwide by regular mail). 


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