Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Sniffing the Katsura Tree

The calendar says autumn and our nighttime temperatures hint at agreement. The leaves of some trees are beginning to color, but we are still months away from the peak of the fall show (mid-October). Trees selected for autumn interest typically have bright leaves or showy seedpods. The leaves of the katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) simply wither and brown, but they release the most fabulous smell as they fade, usually described as like cotton candy or hot sugar. If you have room for this large shade tree, it is worth inclusion in your landscape for the scent, if not the color, they bring to fall.

A whiff of a withered katsura leaf takes me back to high school and the childhood home of my friend Ryan. His family lives on a large lot, on Coal Creek Road, at the edge of town. The property encompasses woods, the aforementioned creek, and fertile fields, farmed for some profit and their own consumption. One of the major crops is strawberries. They sell many of the berries at the farmer’s market, and dry what they can’t eat or sell. The food dehydrator, in the kitchen, is a large cabinet with slide out screens. The strawberries are sliced, laid on the screens, and slid into the dehydrator. A fan circulates warm air over the berries and into the house as they slowly dry. Katsura leaves smell to me exactly like Ryan’s house when the strawberries were preserved: sweet, slightly tart, and fruity.

In Cincinnati, the katsura leaves are just beginning to fade. At my work, one large tree stands outside a side entrance. I will linger there, after returning from my lunchtime walks, to breathe the sweet air. This year, I intend to swipe a handful of dried leaves to use as a potpourri in my office. One whiff removes me from my sterile environment and connects memories from my youth with the present Midwestern autumn.

*I visited Marvin’s Organic Gardens (in Lebanon, OH) last weekend, and they have nice, reasonably priced katsura trees for sale. Go sniff them if you are in the area!


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