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What is Cercidiphyllum?

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  • Written By: Vasanth S.
  • Edited By: Kathryn Hulick
  • Last Modified Date: 21 September 2016
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Cercidiphyllum, commonly called Katsura, is a plant genus that is part of the Cercidiphyllaceae family. It contains only two species, Cercidiphyllum japonicum and Cercidiphyllum magnificum, both of which are trees that are native to Japan and China. They feature heart shaped leaves and long dangling branches. Fallen leaves have a pleasant fragrance that is similar to cinnamon or a cotton candy scent. This genus is ideal as a specimen plant.

The genus name is derived from the Greek words kerkis and phyllon. These translate to "shuttle" and "leaf" respectively. It describes the resemblance to another genus, Cercis, which is commonly called the redbud tree.

Cercidiphyllum japonicum typically grows 26 feet (8 m) in height and features a rounded, spreading form that extends just as wide. New foliage appears bronzed and gradually acquires a bright green color. During the fall, the leaves change to yellow, orange, and eventually red. This species is not known to produce flowers of any significance, but occasionally tiny red flowers will bloom in the spring.

When planting a Katsura tree, ensure that there is enough space for the tree to grow. Usually, it is planted as a stand alone tree or as the focal point of a landscape. The Katsura tree is a common street tree in residential neighborhoods. It is also planted on parking lot islands and in the median of highways.

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As the tree grows, the branches tend to droop and may snap from heavy winds. Pruning is required to maintain an uniform shape and to avoid overgrowth into walkways. The Katsura tree can grow from a single trunk or multiple trunks.

Generally, for the Katsura tree to grow well, it should be planted in clay or sandy soil that is well-draining. It prefers a slightly acidic soil as well. The ground beneath the canopy should contain mulch. The tree should be exposed to direct sunlight, but it will tolerate light shade. It should be placed in an area that is somewhat sheltered, since the leaves are vulnerable to frost damage.

The Katsura tree is usually propagated by seeds and semi-ripe cuttings. It is recommended to sow seeds as soon as they ripen in outdoor containers. Semi-ripe cuttings are taken late in the summer, when the growth rate has slowed. The stem should be firm and contain a few leaves on the upper half. After the cut, the stem should be placed in a rooting medium.

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