Katsura Tree

Basic Information
Tree ID: 
Genus and species: 
This Katsura Vine is found in the Cretaceous Garden. While native to Eastern Asia with a rich history in Japanese folklore, this tree has been successfully transplanted to the United States. Its fallen leaves are special for their sweet fragrance.
Enoch Chang, Irene Jiang, Nicole Feng
Collected Data
Tree shape: 
Date of tree entry: 
4.12 m
Diameter at breast height: 
0.27 m

The bark is an ashy brown color with evidence of lichen on its lower section. There, the bark is scaly to the point of peeling. However, the bark at the midsection is smoother with small, raised horizontal etches, giving it an interesting texture.
Twigs & branches
The twigs are thin, brown, and branching.
The first photo is an image of a sample from the tree. Subsequent images in the spring, autumn, and winter are provided to demonstrate the katsura's appearance in the respective seasons. The leaves have a heart-like shape and have web-like venation.
Reproductive Structures
Male and female flowers are found on different trees. They are inconspicuous and bear no fragrance or odor, which are characteristics of the wind pollination syndrome.
Female flowers develop fruits in the late summer season. They look like elongated pods and are brittle and hard to the touch. Each pod contains several seeds that are released when the fruit dries and splits open.
Natural range of distribution: 
Sunny exposure and moist soil make for ideal growth conditions, although the katsura treeis able to survive through moderate drought conditions once planted. It is best to avoid areas with strong wind. These trees can be planted in USDA hardiness zones 5-8 in a range of temperatures and variety of soil types.
Origin, history, and uses: 

The katsura tree is native to Eastern China, mainly Japan, China, and Korea. Particularly in Japan, the tree is imbedded in folklore - some legends say that the shadow areas on the moon are the silhouette of a magic katsura tree that cannot be cut down. The tree is also linked in name with the Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyoto, whose Palace Garden contains many katsura trees, as well as a viewing platform where you can watch the moon rise. These days, the species is listed as Endangered in Asia (though classified as being Lower Risk). 

At one time, long ago, the wild katsura trees were much more widespread. Fossil records show that these trees grew in Europe and even western North America during the Miocene Ephoch (5-23 million years ago). However, during the Pleistocene epoch, it vanished everywhere except in Asia (about the time humankind started developing agriculture in the “Fertile Crescent” in the Middle East).

In 1907, the notable English plant collector E. H. Wilson found forests of katsura trees in south-central China (specifically, the northwest Szechwan province). The wild trees that he found there were enormous, due to the fertile valley in which they grow - the largest that he measured was had a trunk diameter of 17.5 feet! Today, cultivated katsura trees grow to be much smaller. 

They were introduced to the United States in 1865 by Thomas Hogg Jr, whose family owned a plant nursery on Broadway in Manhattan. In 1862, Thomas was appointed to be a U.S. Marshal by Abraham Lincoln, and was sent on a diplomatic mission to Japan. In the 10 years that he served there, he sent the seeds of several noteworthy garden plants to home to his brother, James - including those of the katsura tree! And the rest is history.

The timber of the katsura tree is renowned in Japan. The wood is light, soft, not strong, and fine grained; it’s popularly used in cabinetry, paneling, and furniture. In the US, it’s become a popular tree to plant along streets and in residential parks and gardens, due to its hardy, pest-resistant qualities and its ornamental value.

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Media and Arts


Oh katsura tree

Leaves turn from bronze to pale green

Remaining heart shaped


Oh katsura tree

What fragrance drifts through the air?

It is caramel


Oh katsura tree

How empty and bare you were

The first time we met


Oh katsura tree

How lovely is the promise

Of budding in spring