I am always so very impressed by the sheer number of trees planted on city-owned property in Vancouver. They become even more impressive in October when their fall colours begin to show. Driving west on 49th Street past Granville Avenue last week I was enthralled by the plantings of Cercidiphyllum japonicum, the Katsura tree. They lined two full blocks of the street, awash in apricot and clear yellow leaves. Some were partially bare but most still had their full compliment of foliage and they were stunning.
Native to China and Japan the Katsura can reach up to 25 metres tall in its natural setting, but rarely gets taller than 10 to 12 metres tall in the garden. The canopy spreads about 6 metres. New heart-shaped leaves are tinged wine-red in spring, maturing to a unique blue-green colour. The tree is somewhat pyramidal in its youth, but develops a more rounded profile as it matures. Bark is a smooth grey initially but becomes more shaggy with age. Cercidiphyllum japonicum is hardy to -30 deg. C. It appreciates a good, rich soil that retains moisture, so plan to give it a good hole initially to grow in and make sure it doesn’t lack for water during the summer months.
We couldn’t “stop to smell the Katsura” but just before the leaves drop they emit a spicy fragrance that some people say reminds them faintly of burnt sugar or even candy floss! The cultivar “Red Fox” has dusky-purple leaves in spring which mature to green. Fall colour can be a brilliant yellow or red, depending on location. One of the great unknowns of the Katsura is the quality of the fall colour. In some locations and some years it can be only ordinary but in other years there are few trees that rival it. This was certainly the case on 49th west of Granville in Vancouver and I was grateful for the opportunity to experience it.

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