Katsura is a magnificent tree that is very appealing when grown in a garden. There are two main types of Katsura tree. Both come from Japan and Eastern China.
There are stunning varieties that have a lot to offer. Especially considering how easy it is to care for!
- Sadly, katsura is becoming an endangered plant species in China due to logging and loss of growing habitat.
Below, we’ll share the best of both species and group them on whether they’re dwarf or weeping katsura, too!
- Read also: how to plant katsura
Cercidiphyllum japonicum, the most widespread species
Naturalized all over the world, this species is especially common in the Eastern United States and along the West Coast. In Europe, it’s increasingly adopted as a garden ornamental. Currently, though, most interesting specimens there are found in botanical gardens. In Japan, it’s very common.
- This species is the taller of the two, reaching towering heights in the wild. It can grow to nearly 150 feet (45 meters)!
There are several varieties or cultivars:
- ‘Red Fox’ katsura – Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Rot fuchs’, all leaves are tinted with an elegant bronze color, whether green-bronze in summer and orange-bronze in fall. This is the one you should target if you can only plant one, for its outlandish red-violet hues.
- ‘Ruby’ katsura – Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Ruby’ is small (30 feet or 10 meters) for a tree, but what makes it stand out is its blue-purple leafage.
- ‘Aureum’ katsura – Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Aureum’, amazing brilliant yellow throughout the summer. In spring, young leaves are purple-green, similar to those of purple hazel.
- ‘Strawberry’ katsura – Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Strawberry’, red-pink leaves in summer with touches of yellow.
- ‘Peach’ katsura – Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Peach’, grows small for a tree (15 feet/5 meters). This variety gives a scent that is closer to the taste of sweet canned peaches.
- ‘Raspberry’ katsura – Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Raspberry’, similar to the ‘Strawberry’
- ‘Purpurea’ katsura – Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Purpurea’, similar to the ‘Red Fox’ but with deeper colored leaves.
- ‘Hanna’s Heart’ katsura – Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Hanna’s Heart’. Named after the daughter of the nursery owners where this Cercidiphyllum sport appeared, Hanna Biringer from the State of Washington (USA). Grows only half as wide as it does tall, which is good if a narrower cultivar is needed. Dense but shorter root system makes it easier to transplant than other katsura varieties, reducing transplant shock.
Dwarf katsura tree varieties
These are the varieties most often found in nurseries. Indeed, their size when mature doesn’t exceed 15 feet or 5 meters, which is perfect for most of our gardens!
- ‘Heronswood Globe’ katsura – Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Heronswood Globe’, prized by the Royal Horticulture Society for its slow growth, brilliant fall foliage and round-shaped bearing. Smallest of the cultivars, topping out at 15 feet or 5 meters.
- ‘Glowball’ katsura – Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Glowball’, tops out at 10-12 feet or 3-4 meters.
- ‘Boyd’s Dwarf’ katsura – Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Boyd’s dwarf’, aptly named because it will rarely exceed 12 feet (4 meters). Ideal for small gardens.
- ‘Herkenrode Dwarf’ katsura – Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Herkenrode Dwarf’, the smallest of all katsura (except for katsura formed as a bonsai!). Only grows to 8 feet (under 2 meters) after 10 years!
- ‘Kruckeberg Dwarf’ katsura – Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Kruckeberg Dwarf’, deep green foliage without any coloring, except for fall when it turns top-to-bottom into a ball of fire!
Weeping caramel trees
Several varieties are “weeping” trees, in that the branches droop down to the ground. You might be more familiar with the weeping willow in this respect.
‘Morioka Weeping’ – Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Morioka Weeping’. Named after the city of Morioka, in Japan, where the original plant was discovered. The mutation only carries on through vegetative propagation. All the specimens you might encounter of the Morioka Weeper can be traced back to that single tree!
- Usually katsura cuttings are prepared, but recently new techniques rely on micro-propagation. Cloning is performed from small portions of the original plant, instead of an entire stem.
- Unlike most other katsura trees, the Morioka cultivar tends to grow a single trunk. It won’t develop many secondary trunks like the other katsura trees do.
Other weeping varieties include those that have the name ‘Pendulum’. Unlike the Morioka, they tend to grow multiple trunks which also makes for a very nice result.
- They’re classified under the name Cercidiphyllum japonicum f. pendulum.
- The “f” stands for “forma” or shape.
- ‘Pendula’ itself is a cultivar name.
Here are a few specific weeping katsura varieties in increasingly weeping order.
- ‘Pendula’ – tall with swaying, drooping branches, the tallest of the weeping cultivars at 25 feet (8 meters).
- ‘Amazing Grace’ – weeping form that trails its branches to the ground.
- ‘Tidal wave’ – most weeping of the three: branches start crawling along the ground when they reach it! Very hardy, blue-green in summer and bright red in fall.
Weeping katsura trees are particularly easy to propagate through layering.
- Branches trailing to the ground can be fitted in pots while still nourished by the mother tree.
- Read on how to layer katsura and other katsura propagation techniques.
Variegated katsura trees
Recently, new variegated varieties (ow that’s a throat-twister) have appeared that are of interest.
- ‘Chameleon’ katsura – Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Chameleon’. Leaves are slightly variegated, with a mottled pattern on younger trees. As the tree ages, the yellow-white variegation shifts towards the outside of the leaf, leaving the center a deeper green color.
Cercidiphyllum magnificum, the smaller, rarer of the two
This one is only native to Japan. Specifically, the native range of Cercidiphyllum magnificum is the rather large island of Honshu.
- However, it has now been naturalized in different places across the planet.
- It’s also easy to get your hands on a packet of seeds to grow this katsura from seed.
Cercidiphyllum magnificum is also called “large-leaf katsura“. Indeed, its leaves are larger than those of Cercidiphyllum japonicum.
- The shrub itself, though, will never really grow into a tall tree.
- Usually it can’t grow much taller than 30 feet (10 meters).
Though both japonicum and magnificum can be grown as bonsai, the latter is easier to control and care for.
- Read more on how to grow a Cercidiphyllum bonsai.
Extinct Cercidiphyllum species
For this list of katsura species to be truly complete, it’s interesting to reflect on past kastura species that are today nowhere to be found. Cercidiphyllum-like plants started appearing around 90 million years ago and spanned the planet.
- Each area developed unique species.
Sometimes, periods of intense cold, ice ages, or other catastrophes eliminated these from entire continents. The only trace we have left are in the form of fossils.
- Cercidiphyllum macrophyllum – also translates to “large-leaf katsura”, like C. magnificum. This species covered most of Europe but disappeared around 7 million years ago.
- Cercidiphyllum crenatum – Was widely spread across much of Europe, East Asia and especially North America. It thrived around 25 million years ago.
- Cercidiphyllum alaskanum – Crossed over the Bering Bridge into North America. Characteristic of an epoch that was 7 to 25 million years ago.
- Cercidiphyllum articulum – Covered much of North America around 60 million years ago. Fossils have been found in Montana showing these leaves!
Other proposed species include Cercidiphyllum elongatum and Cercidiphyllum ellipticum. These names describe leaves of fossilized Cercidiphyllum species. They were present in North America around 60 million years ago, too.
Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Red Fox katsura by Esther Westerveld under © CC BY 2.0
Morioka weeping from below by Leonora Enking under © CC BY-SA 2.0
Pendulum katsura in a small Japanese garden by Wendy Cutler under © CC BY-SA 2.0