Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Purple-leaved Katsura

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Every detail of katsura leaves is worth studying, especially in Spring when the coloring is more intense.  'Rotfuchs' is the most intense of all.  Backlit by late afternoon sun, the leaves glow burgundy with a contrasting net of veins.  They are black-purple when front-lighted.

 

The foliage of the straight species, Cercidiphyllum japonicum, is no less engaging despite its paler tones.  The newest leaves are blushed with purple, not saturated with it, and progress quickly to blue-green.  The pinkish-red petioles spring from the green section of new stems.

 

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Katsura is broadly hardy—from Maine to Georgia—and no garden should be without at least one.

 

 

 

Here's how to grow this supremely satisfying tree:


Latin Name

Cercidiphyllum japonicum 'Rotfuchs', which is German for red fox.

Common Name

Purple-leaved katsura.  The pronunciation is "CAHT-sura."

Family

Cercidiphyllaceae, the Katsura family.

What kind of plant is it?

Deciduous tree.

Hardiness

Zones 4 - 8.

Habit

Upright and multi-trunked, usually branching almost at ground level.  Habits of mature individuals can vary.  Some retain an upright vase shape, others are broad, with cantilevering limbs to rival those of live oaks.   

Rate of Growth

Medium.

Size in ten years

Variable: Ten feet tall to twenty feet tall and six to twelve feet wide.

Texture

Delicate, thanks to the widely-spaced foliage.

Grown for

its foliage:  For those who are susceptible to its charms, katsura foliage is peerless.  Given that those who are susceptible are paragons of sophistication (if, sometimes, only in their own minds), katsuras themselves have become poster children for gardens that aspire to (and, sometimes, even receive) applause from cognoscenti Heart-shaped leaves emerge purplish, deep purple for 'Rotfuchs', in widely-spaced pairs that are held along the stems in two parallel lines.  The complex pigment pattern of the foliage of 'Rotfuchs'—the green cloisonné netting of the veins, the minute bright-white teeth around the leaf perimeter, the brilliant white of the upper leaf scale and the ruby of the lower—is set off by the deep burgundy of the young stems.  There isn't a detail to be missed.


Leaves of the straight species turn a beautiful blue-green within days of emergence.  Those of 'Rotfuchs' hold their purple until the heat of Summer, when the leaves fade to a still-attractive blue-green.  Fall foliage colors can be spectacular—but even more startling, is that the leaves release a scent of caramel (cotton candy, to some noses) as they fall.  I have heard that the foliage is also fragrant during its Spring emergence.     

Flowering season

Early Spring, before the foliage: Tiny and not showy.

Color combinations

The coloring of 'Rotfuchs', like that of purple-leaved smoke bushes, calls for partners that are light and even bright, in shades of green, yellow, cream, and white. 

Partner plants


Katsura is such a showpiece of details and subtleties that partner plants whose appeal is based on anything as blatant as—shudder—flowers will look tacky.  Focus on foliage.  This isn't a limitation, in that it can be as colorful as possible, and its form eccentric and even extreme.  Katsura's vase-like habit suggests that some partners be broad and mounding.  Evergreen is a good counter to the katsura's deciduousity, whose leaves, shaped just like those of its redbud namesake, Cercis, go with both the needly or fan-spray foliage of conifers such as yew, plum-yew, and Hinoki, as well as broadleaves such as holly, cherry laurel, and rhododendron.   

 

Add some shade-tolerant grassiness, with shorter contributions from liriope or carex, and taller from mid-size bamboos.  Big-leaf bamboo, very shade-tolerant, would be particularly strong.

 

While foliage of 'Rotfuchs' is extraordinary in its array and coloring, the tree's bark and branching pattern are, in themselves, not nearly as distinctive.  You could clothe the trunks with a self-clinging climber, especially if evergreen, as long as it wasn't allowed to become so high-climbing that it reached the young twigs that show off the pair-by-pair-by-pair placement of the foliage.  The best choices would have foliage that's much larger than the katsura's and, if pigmented, calls out creatively to the tree's.  Variegated persian ivy would be the ultimate, with huge leaves sectioned with pale cream. 

Where to use it in your garden

Katsura trees are automatic focal points.  The fastidiously-aligned pairs of leaves the length of new stems demand close gaze, and the fragrant Fall foliage demands close sniffs.  Be sure, then, to leave access through any companion plants right up to the trunk of the tree.    

Culture

Full sun or light shade, in moisture-retentive soil rich in organic matter.  Not drought tolerant, especially when young. 

How to handle it: The Basics

Plant in Spring or Fall, and be careful to provide supplemental irrigation to young plants for several years.  At any age, trees welcome an occasional deep watering during the heat of Summer.  If you can manage it, set out a weeper hose by July and, twice a month through September, run it at low volume overnight. 

How to handle it: Another option—or two?

Katsura is unusual in needing little if any formative pruning.  Plant, water, enjoy.

Quirks or special cases

None.

Downsides

Aside from their preference for sun, and their need for water, katsura trees are untroubled.

Variants

Cercidiphyllum japonicum itself is highly garden-worthy but, truth to tell, if you have room for only one of the upright cultivars, plant 'Rotfuchs'.  And then, start on your collection of cultivars whose foliage coloring is traditional, but whose habits are exceptional.  'Pendula' and 'Amazing Grace' weep as heart-stoppingly as any weeping willow, and are usually as broad or broader than tall, twenty feet tall and twenty-five wide.  'Morioka Weeping' can be twice as tall, but no wider than the others. C. magnificum is somewhat smaller than C. japonicum but the leaves are larger; it also has a 'Pendula' cultivar, which has the tall-and-narrow habit of 'Morioka Weeping'.  'Heronswood Globe' is semi-dwarf (to about ten feet) and, indeed, almost round in profile.  'Tidal Wave' is irregularly prostrate and outward-bound.

 

It wouldn't be overkill to have an upright form, one of the weepers, 'Heronswood Globe', and 'Tidal Wave'.

Availability

On-line and, sometimes, at nurseries.

Propagation

By grafting.

Native habitat

Cercidiphyllum japonicum is native to Japan.  'Rotfuchs' originated in Germany.

 
 
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