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The Katsura myth and the dream of a tree

  • The Katsura myth and the dream of a tree
  • The Katsura myth and the dream of a tree
  • The Katsura myth and the dream of a tree

There is a story attached to the Katsura tree, Cercidiphyllum japonicum, that tells of a Chinese monk who discovered the secret of eternal life. Not content with this he went on to commit a hideous crime, for which he was sentenced to go to the moon to fell a 5,000 feet high tree. The image of the man in the moon we see today is apparently the condemned man trying to accomplish this impossible task. This gives rise to the idea of a Katsura as an impossible goal or unachievable dream. In Western China many pharmacies sell Katsura bark for its medicinal properties.

Whatever the myth, Cercidiphyllum is certainly a dream of a tree. Easily grown, it is known for its beautiful, heart-shaped leaves that turn fantastic shades of yellow, purple and red in autumn.

The leaves are bright green in spring / summer and grown from seed; the autumn colour varies from plant to plant, with the leaves of some turning brilliant orange or yellow and others turning glowing purple and red. As the leaves fall from the tree late in the year, they give off an aroma similar to burnt sugar or candy floss.

Cercidiphyllum is an ancient genus of trees which has been on earth for many millions of years. It is thought to be distantly related to Liriodendron (Tulip Tree). Cercidiphyllum have rounded, heart-shaped leaves, which typically colour well in autumn and the dying leaves emit the powerful and pleasant fragrance of bonfire toffee or caramelised sugar.

These are long lived trees, growing to medium stature in the span of a normal lifetime but, in favourable conditions are destined to become large specimens in hundred of years time.

Comments (1)

  1. Grower

    Jeremy Wright

    Interesting. It seems the man in the moon myth is draws on the fact that the Katsura can become very large - one of the largest trees in Asia up to 45m high (147ft). Thankfully you don't need the space for that here as our frosts and winter winds tend to limit the mature height to 10-15m.

    As well as being sensitive to frost, the Katsura needs moist soil to thrive. In times of drought it will drop its leaves until water is available, to protect the rest of the tree.

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