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Tree of the Month - Katsura
Maria Ellis
By Maria Ellis  //  Wed 5th July 2017
Tree Nursery, Forestry, Estate
If anyone has read a couple of these blogs before, they’ll probably have noticed that I tend to use this blog as an opportunity to sing the praises of our wonderful native trees. They really are fascinating and beautiful and are an essential part our cultural and natural heritage. Not just a pretty face, they also greatly benefit our wildlife, supporting hundreds of different species.
However  every now and then I like to explore some more international species and this month I’ll be focusing on the particularly enchanting Katsura tree, or Cercidiphyllum, which can add grace and elegance to any garden and which provides a wonderful insight into the rich culture and mythology of Eastern Asia.

Not many trees are able to provide all-year-round interest but the Katsura certainly can. The young leaves that appear in spring are tinged with a soft pink giving the tree a gentle ombré effect and adding a wave of spring colour to the garden. This month, the heart-shaped leaves will be a wonderfully fresh turquoise-green and will hang delicately on the branches creating a tidy pyramidal shaped canopy. The Katsura also provides some much needed dappled shade in the summer heat which is perfect for shade-loving plants (and for the sun-scorched gardener!) Then, come autumn, the tree changes again this time to an array of soft, lemon yellows, pale apricots and faded reds creating a sweeping watercolour effect. The Katsura has one more trick up its sleeve and if you stroll past the tree on an October’s day you might have a pleasant surprise when the sweet scent of caramel floats from the leaves as they flutter in the autumn breeze. Take a walk into Ray Wood in the Castle Howard Grounds and you’ll find a group of Katsura trees standing proud amongst the other specimens planted there.

The Katsura has its origins in China, Japan and Korea where it is now listed as an endangered species. However, although the species population may wane, the Katsura remains firm in Japanese folklore through which this mysterious tree captures the imagination. Traditionally it was believed that a beautiful, giant Katsura tree grew on the moon and the shade from its leaves produced the shadows across the moon’s surface. In the Japanese legend, a gardener, Katsura-Otoko, lives on the moon and prunes the giant Katsura tree each night, little-by-little, until the shadow across the moon gets smaller and smaller and a full moon appears in our sky. The Katsura tree grows quickly however and soon the shade from its leaves blocks out the moon once again. Katsura-Otoko’s task is never finished and he remains an eternal gardener.

This captivating story about phases of the moon adds to the charms of this special tree. Introduced to the UK in 1895, the Katsura has been adding Japanese form and elegance to British gardens for over a century, delighting the senses in every season and providing a place for reflection and contemplation. If you choose to plant one in your garden (see our Tree Nursery page for availability) you won’t regret it. A word of warning however - be careful not to stare at the moon Katsura for too long, as it is said that Katsura-Otoko is so beautiful that those who gaze on him for too long find it impossible to ever look away!