Thank you again to Douglas Justice for both today’s photograph and accompanying written entry. – Daniel.
This year the katsuras are colouring well. Cercidiphyllum japonicum is not well known for autumn finery in Vancouver, I suppose because our typical dry summer weather usually causes much early leaf drop. Either that, or when plants are shaded, the rich green colour slowly drains out of the leaves until they’re an insipid, anonymous straw-yellow. However, when the fates conspire and the colours emerge, katsuras are like fireballs: all saturated red, pink, orange and blackening maroon, like a simmering furnace of molten metals and slag.
My father planted a katsura at home along the back fence when I was a few years old. As far as I can remember it was always there, and I can only recall a few times when we had the kind of brilliant display we’re witnessing this year. But regardless of the depth of its autumn tints, I always considered the species impressive. I love its rough, ascending trunks and perfect, rounded leaves with their regimented, two-by-two placement along its wire-like branches. I love the exuberance of its growth, opportunistically sprouting new shoots everywhere when conditions are ideal (katsuras prefer cool temperatures and revel in summer moisture). I even love the tiny ephemeral flowers; these are arranged along the mature leafless branches in spring and look like little rubies when the light catches them sideways.
Most of all, however, I love the smell of the senescing leaves. For some reason, as the leaves of Cercidiphyllum start to break down, they become intensely aromatic. Some say the aroma is like candy-floss or strawberries. Lately, the distinctive burnt sugar fragrance suggests crème brûlée to me (perhaps I’m not getting enough expensive desserts to eat). To be honest, it really reminds me of raking katsura leaves in my childhood, an activity I eagerly anticipated and never saw as a chore — which goes to show that my dad is smarter than I thought.