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When the katsura's multi-coloured leaves finally fall, they give off a lovely smell described as burnt sugar, candyfloss or ripe strawberries.
Leaves of the katsura tree

About Kew's katsura

This species is potentially (in its native habitat) the biggest temperate broadleaf. But it never makes a big tree in the UK where conditions are not ideal.

The one major problem for this species is drought, which means some of the recent dry summers here at Kew have been challenging. If water runs low, the tree just drops its leaves. We irrigate, but this can not meet the tree's demands in the driest weather and unfortunately our trees have regularly lost foliage in recent years.

Take a closer look

  • Although this tree is closely related to the flamboyant magnolias and tulip trees, it has small, subtle and delicate, elongated flowers. These are generally seen as a sideshow to the spectacular foliage.
  • Watch the pretty, heart-shaped leaves change from one bright colour to the next over a season. Starting out pink in the spring, they turn bright green in summer before various shades of yellow, orange and red take over in autumn, often with several colours overlapping.

Tree biology

In a sheltered spot with deep, moist soil, this tree grows well. In the UK however, chilly winter winds and surprise frosts can kill off young growth which usually limits the katsura's maximum size. It often amounts to little more than a large bush instead of the giant tree it becomes in China or Japan.

The tree flowers in March or April and produces winged seeds.

Cultivation and uses

In its native habitat in Japan and China, the katsura can grow to an impressive 45 metres and is one of the largest deciduous trees in Asia. Traditionally its light timber is used for furniture and interior woodwork.

In Britain however, where it rarely reaches more than 14 metres tall, its main use is as the pride and joy of many a landscaped garden.

Quick facts

  • Scientific name: Cercidiphyllum japonicum
  • Family: Cercidiphyllaceae
  • Place of origin: Japan and China
  • Conservation status: Lower risk (conservation dependent)
  • Date planted: 1995
  • Height: 1.6 m