Monday, May 17, 2010

Katsura Tree

Cercidiphyllum japonicum ( Katsura Tree )
Native from the Himalayas to Japan, however fossil evidence shows that it was also once native to western North America and Europe. The Katsura eventually forms a large tree yet retaining its elegant horizontal branching habit. Broadly pyramidal when young; the Katsura tree eventually forms a massive domed crown resembling an open grown Oak. A very long lived tree; its mature size in the U.S. is still unknown but possibly over 100 feet. Indeed some have alreadt reached 82 feet or slightly more in both Philadelphia and Fort Wayne, Indiana. The U.S.A. champion grows at Philly's Morris Arboretum ( approx 72 x 100 feet x 7.5 feet diam. ). Another large tree ( 101 x 72 x 4.5 feet grows in Hartford, CT ). In it's native habitat; the Katsura rivals the Ginkgo and the Tulip Tree as among the worlds largest temperate hardwoods. Some records include: first year from seed - 5 feet; fastest growth rate - 6 feet; 5 years - 25 feet; 20 years - 45 feet; 30 years - 60 x 30 feet; 52 years - 78 x 50 feet with a trunk diameter of 3.1 feet; 370 years - 150 feet with a trunk diameter of 10 feet; largest ever recorded - 180 x 82 feet with a trunk diameter of 22 feet! One of the worlds longest living hardwoods; the Katsura tree can last up to 2000 years in age and is rarely bothered by either insect pests or disease. It makes an attractive street tree in the cooler parts of its range where reflected heat and drought wont scorch it's leaves or stunt it's growth.
The foliage resembles that of the unrelated Cercis - Redbud. The rounded leaves are up to 6 x 6 ( rarely over 4 x 4 ) inches in size. The foliage is reddish at first when unfolding, turning to blue-green. The autumn color on the Katsura is exceptional!!! In full sun the colors can be intense and often multiple colors ( red, pinks and yellows ) occur on the same tree. In autumn the foliage is also cotton candy smelling aromatic.
The tiny early spring flowers borne from the leaf axils are not an ornamental feature simply because they are so small.
They are followed by a curved, small, green pod.
The brown shaggy bark is very attractive in all seasons.
Hardy zones 4 to 8 ( possibly zones 2 and 3 however this is an estimation based on using seed source from the far northern part of the trees natural range planted into sheltered locations only ). It has been reported to grow in Winnipeg, Manitoba and Ottawa, Ontario and in fact generally do like climates with hot summers and cold winters. Though very different in appearance; the Katsura is related to the Magnolias and enjoys similar growing conditions. The Katsura does not like root compaction and grows best on deep, moist, fertile acidic, well drained soil though it more tolerant ( in fact it grew very well on almost pure sand in Leamington, ON with extra fertilizer and absence of turf competition ). The Katsura is also clay tolerant. This tree can be grown in sun or shade, though forest grown trees tend to be tall and thin. Young trees should be pruned to a single leader and feathered with lower branches eventually limbed up to form a tree that can be walked under. The best time to prune is in March. This tree does not like to be transplanted at large sizes however small trees can establish rapidly when planted while dormant. Easy to grow and deer resistant; they are virtually immune to insect pests or disease. Katsuras leaf out early and is thus not recommended in mountain valleys or other areas prone to late freezes. It also prefers to be somewhat sheltered and is more at home on a wooded lot than on the side of a freeway or farmers field. Turf grass competition stunts growth of Katsura ( in many cases to half or less than figures quoted above ). Propagation from seed is easy however the seed needs to go through a "chilling" period before they germinate. As for the cultivars; they are readily reproduced from cuttings taken in late spring or summer and root easily as long as kept cool and moist.

* photos taken on April 28 2010 in Clarksville, MD

* photo taken on May 16 2010 @ Cylburn Arboretum, Baltimore, MD

* photos taken on 4th of July 2010 in Washington, D.C.

* photos taken on July 17 2010 @ Morris Arboretum, Philly, PA

* photos taken on August 3 2010 @ University of Guelph Arboretum, Ontario

* photo taken on August 4 2010 @ Stratford, Ontario

* photos taken on Sep 16 2013 in Columbia, MD

* photo taken on July 25 2015 @ Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

* photo taken on Apr 8 2017 in Columbia, MD

* photos taken on Jul 19 2017 @ Major's Hill Park, Ottawa, ON

* historical archive photos

'Amazing Grace'
Forms a massive mound of cascading branches. It can eventually reach 30 x 35 feet though only about 12 x 12 feet in 10 years. Foliage turns attractive yellow-orange in autumn. Not as hardy as the coldest region seed source of regular Katsura but can still survive north into zone 4

* photo taken on May 21 2011 @ Brookside Gardens "Party with the Peonies" tour in Fulton, MD

'Heronswood Globe'
A dwarf form, forming a bushy, dense, rounded, small tree, reaching a maximum size of 20 x 20 feet. Some records include: 10 years - 8 x 6.5 feet.
Vigorous when young, unlike the parent trees which grows huge, this cultivar slows down considerably as it matures.
The foliage turns intense orange-red during autumn.

a rare cultivar with deep purple spring foliage that turns to dark purple green in summer. It also forms a large tree.

Reaches up to 60 x 4o feet with foliage that is reddish in spring, green in summer then red in autumn.

'Red Fox'
Smaller and more narrowly-upright in stature, reaching up to 12 x 5 feet in 10 years, eventually to 30 x 20 feet.
The foliage is deep purplish-red at first, turning to purplish-green during summer. During autumn, the foliage turns to yellow and orange.
Hardy zones 5 to 8.

* photos taken on Apr 17 2016 @ U.S. National Arboretum, DC

* photo taken on Apr 24 2016 @ U.S. National Arboretum, DC

No major differance except possibly even faster growing ( record growth rate - 8 feet ).
The foliage is somewhat downy beneath.

* historic archive photo

Foliage turns to scarlet in fall rather than the typical mix of colors; otherwise identical to species.

Cercidiphyllum magniphyllum
Similar to Cercidiphyllum japonicum but with larger leaves to around 5 inches

Cercidiphyllum magniphyllum 'Pendulum' ( Weeping Katsura )
The Weeping Katsura tree grows in the same shape of the Weeping Willow but is much more low maintenance. It matures into a very beautiful weeping tree and is infact among my favorites of all weeping specimum trees. It is very fast growing and some records include: fastest growth rate - 7 feet; 6 year size - 25 feet ) but soon slows down to a mature size around 35 x 30 feet, though after 100 years may become much larger. One in Japan is 75 feet in height with a trunk diameter of 4.7 feet at an age of 170 years.
Its leaves are cordate to rounded, are up to 6 x 6 inches and are blue-green in color. They turn yellows, oranges and red in the fall and often with all colors on the same tree.

* photo taken @ U.S. National Arboretum, D.C. on Feb 2009

* photo taken @ U.S. National Arboretum, D.C. on August 2005

* photo taken on March 2010 @ U.S. National Arboretum

* photo taken on May 6 2010 @ Brookside Gardens, Wheaton, MD

* photos taken on Apr 17 2016 @ U.S. National Arboretum, DC

* photos taken on Mar 18 2017 @ Brookside Gardens, Wheaton, MD

* photos taken on Apr 23 2017 @ Brookside Gardens, Wheaton, MD


  1. I would love a Katsura but I think it may fall into that "borderline hardy" category for me. I envy those that can grow this beauty!

    Christine in Alaska

  2. I think I have two Weeping Katsura's on my property. One of which has many leaves turning yellow & falling off as if it is Autumn. I wonder if that is due to the excessive heat we have been having. I've kept it watered but maybe that is not enough.
    I have been searching to find out what type of tree it is & came across your blog.
    May I send you a photo of it to help identify it?

  3. Please do send photos. What is your location? Katsuras generally do not grow well on lower elevations in the Deep South but excellent north of Maryland. Established trees to seem alot tougher as there is absolutely no leaf drop or scorch on the trees in DC and Philly in my photos. Keep them well watered and mulched and in the fall give them a fertilizer application bone meal to stimulate growth ( which means more establishment and top growth next year ).
    If your Katsuras are located where they get reflected heat of concrete ( south or west facing walls, driveway, parking lot ) I would recommend moving them to a cooler location in fall.
    Just posted additional photos of this tree. Check them out...

  4. Love the draping! Would it be a good choice for ornamental in central Indiana? Do NOT want a GIANT tree...what to expect in height and width?

  5. I would expect about 60 x 30 feet in 30 years for the Katsura, less for the weeping varieties, especially 'Amazing Grace'. The tree in the photos at Morris Arboretum in Philly is over 100 years of age and is the largest Katsura in the U.S. It should grow well in Indiana though preferrably in a mulched bed with irrigation during drought and away from reflacted concrete. I have seen many very vigorous trees in both Guelph and Stratford, Ontario this past week so they are definately adapted to the rigors of the midwestern climate.

  6. Katsura grows well in the coldest part of Southern Ontario ( zone 4b ) , I plated a whip in Shelburne , Ontario in 1997 that is 30+ feet high , and has not tip damage in winter . It is a lovely tree.

  7. I just saw this beautiful tree at Bernheim Forest. I've been looking for a tree like this since moving into our new home. However, finding a nursery who carries it is a bit difficult. Can you recommend anyone?

  8. I planted one last spring. I had the coldest winter of my life here in Alberta and we bottomed out at -39c. It was cold almost all winter from November-Feb and April had the coldest April day on record while it was budding already!
    Anyways, it’s almost completely leafed out with no dieback. This tree is amazingly hardy. My cedars had major burn on the south side of many of them yet this Katsura pulled through awesome.