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The Amazing Katsura Tree

Even though the air is cold, the garden is ready and
waiting for spring. Each winter I am amazed to see the large flower buds of my
magnolia and rhododendron perfectly formed and unharmed by the freezing temperatures.

The tiny red buds of my favorite Katsura tree,
Cercidiphyllum japonicum, are barely noticeable as I look from my kitchen
window, but as I pass by it going in and out each day I see they fill the tiny
olive-brown twigs. My son was just over a year old when he helped to plant this
year-round beauty that now shades our patio.

Katsura tree

The Katsura tree has beautiful heart-shaped leaves
that remind you of our native redbud. The leaves emerge reddish in color and
turn a perfect bluish-green for summer and a golden yellow for fall. This medium-sized
tree can reach 40 feet in height, making it the perfect choice for the smaller
garden or for an area where you don’t want or need a 100-foot-tall maple or

Rich and moist yet well-drained soils are
a must for this tree to perform its best. Water regularly during establishment
and hot dry summers, regardless of tree age. Even mature specimens can suffer
from heat and drought.

Amazing Grace

Perhaps an even more amazing sight is Cercidiphyllum
‘Pendula’ or ‘Amazing Grace.’ These weeping forms have been difficult
to find in the past but are becoming increasingly available every year. A tremendous
Kentucky nurseryman, Theodore Klein, selected the cultivar ‘Amazing Graze’ and
a mature specimen can be seen in the magnolia section on the sun and shade trail
at Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, located near Bardstown in Bullitt
and Nelson counties.

During Klein’s life he also introduced to
us many American holly cultivars, such as Ilex opaca ‘Judy Evans,’ and
cercis canadensis ‘Silver Cloud’ redbud. The fruits of his work will
continue to be seen even beyond his death as the plants he so lovingly cultivated
at his nursery grow on and mature in gardens like ours.

Leaves of both the species and weeping forms
of the Katsura tree are very much alike, but when you see the beautiful blue-green,
heart-shaped leaves falling from the even more incredible weeping specimens,
it presents a whole new experience in beauty. In the fall you are rewarded again
with a beautiful golden waterfall of fall color.

The weeping forms grow approximately 20 to
25 feet tall in our area, but because of their weeping habit they take up a
bit more ground space than other species and can grow 30 feet wide or more.
This sometimes makes me wish for a larger garden, but for now I am not willing
to give up 30 feet of my small garden and I find that my upright species keeps
me quite happy.

Perhaps a lesser known weeping Katsura tree
is Cercidiphyllum magnificum ‘Pendulum.’ This larger form can reach 50
feet in height and is more upright than the others. This form boasts a dominant
central leader, therefore the branches do not weep as strongly and its leaves
are slightly larger, giving it a different look. It is also becoming easier
to find.

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