July 27, 2012

Katsura and its Catastrophes

This tree will not survive.

It is a katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) that I planted in spring, 2009. It is a wonderful, fast growing tree with heart shaped leaves (like cercis, or redbud, hence the name "cercis-leaved") that are reddish when they come out in spring, and that smell like cotton candy when they turn bright orange in fall. It's a burnt sugar smell, and delightful on a sunny autumn day.  I love this tree.

It becomes a large spreading shade tree in maturity, and I had hopes for mine.

But from the beginning this sapling attracted catastrophe.

In 2009 it looked good when first planted. Perhaps a bit stranded out in the open lawn, but it would grow.

In 2010 deer found it, and that fall a buck rubbed his antlers on the slender trunks and shredded most of the bark.  All the lower branches came off, but the upper limbs remained.  It looked wrecked, but it did continue to grow.

In 2011 it had added some size, when an early snowstorm tore off upper branches.  Now it looked even more wrecked, but lived on.

Katsuras grow fast, so I hoped my little catastrophe-prone stick with no lower branches and only half its upper canopy would still recover and fill in and become a decent tree, give or take twenty years. An old specimen at Arnold Arboretum in Boston showed me what I could expect.


The specimen at the arboretum has kept its multiple trunks.  The low, wide branches make this inviting rather than stately.  This is a climbing tree, and wants a tree fort.

My little specimen had already lost its multiple stems and lower branches, but a single-trunk katsura would still spread out above, and provide shade in summer and burnt sugar fragrance in fall --- assuming it could avoid any further accidents, lightning strikes, floods or earthquakes.

But it was not to be.

In 2012 the bark completely separated from the trunk all around, even where it still cradles the back side.  This is fatal.  Maybe not immediately, and perhaps there will be leaves next year, but it will not live.

Fall color of the heart shaped leaves
(from UConn)
I thought it was such a survivor after deer attacks and snowstorm carnage, but with this last assault it has stopping growing heartily.

I will replace it. Shade is needed in the open lawn area where this was planted.

I feel really bad about the fate of this accident prone sapling.



22 comments:

  1. Hmmm, the deer encounter reminds me that a botanist friend says deer saliva contains a growth inhibitor. Maybe the deer did more than rub its antlers. Sorry for your loss, Laurrie.

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  2. How frustrating! If it were my tree, I'd be upset, too. Are you going to replace it with another katsura? You could try putting a screen around the trunk like biologists do in wooded areas that they are trying to reforest.

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    1. Tammy, the frustration is that I do cage the trunks of all my trees every fall. But this one was multi stemmed and still a bendy whip, and more like a shrub. It wasn't the kind of sturdy trunk that bucks rub against, so I didn't have it caged. LIve and learn.

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  3. oh those deer. This is so tough to lose a tree, I know well how much hope and time you put in these plants. I second Tammy's idea of putting wire screen around the trunk. We did that when we lived on the west coast with a small tree and it worked well to keep deer from rubbing on it.

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    1. Marguerite, I think because I do have all my trees screened around the trunks, the desperate buck picked the only one that was unprotected --- even though it had multiple trunks and they were just whippy reed-like stems. I'd never seen them use shrub-like flexible stems for rubbing before, so the katsura did not have a cage. aaargh.

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  4. You make me so glad i have never had a problem with deer. Raccoons and voles are no comparison. I am so sorry about your tree. I have long admired the katsura tree. Good luck with its replacement!

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    1. Deborah, thanks. I am already thinking about replacement, but can't decide if I want another katsura or something else. Decisions!

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  5. Ugh. That tree was sprouted under a bad star. Too bad, as Katsuras are lovely trees. :(

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    1. Sweetbay, it really did sprout under some kind of hex. : (

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  6. My first Katsura tree was run over by the propane delivery man. It was over six feet tall. They paid me $100 for a replacement. I was so upset... Nothing would pay for the time or emotions that went into that young tree. I now have a "Red Fox" Katsura that is in its 3rd year here. We are expecting the propane tank to be replaced soon and I'm as nervous as can be about what will transpire.

    I still suggest you replace yours with another Katsure. They are gorgeous and fast growers (when allowed to do so!)

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    1. Marie, when the propane truck comes, go out and stand next to your katsura . . . they need all the protection from catastrophe we can provide. At least mine never got run over!

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  7. Sorry to hear about your tree. That is too sad.

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    1. Ruth, many thanks. It is silly to be so upset about losing a tree, but it does affect me.

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  8. So sorry about your tree, Laurrie; those leaves are so beautiful, I know you were looking forward to a lovely shade tree when it emerged. There's not much we can do about storms, but those darned deer! Did you ever buy a gun and a hunting license?:)

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    1. Rose, thanks for the sympathy. I thought it could survive the deer, and I thought it might be okay after the storm, but both whammies together were too much.

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  9. Hi Laurrie, Trees have a way of working themselves into your heart. Perhaps that is because they are around for the long haul. Our Black Walnut needs to have several decayed branch removed, but the tree is mammoth and the cost for this work is into the thousands. So we put the work off. With its big sweeping branches, the tree is majestic and I feel guilty that we neglect it so. I can understand and sympathize with your attachment to the little tree with the heart shaped leaves and the string of bad luck.

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    1. Jennifer, I love the way you described my little tree with its heart shaped leaves and string of bad luck : ) Made me smile.

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    1. Joene, I know... damn them! Thanks for helping me vent!

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  11. I love these trees too-I saw a huge one at the Dinosaur Park off I-91 near Glastonbury right when I moved to CT and knew I needed to have one. I planted one in 2008, a Katsura 'Heronswood Globe' and it is supposed to get about 15' tall. I have been worrying about it since. It is the 1st tree to show drought stress in my yard by the inner leaves yellowing and falling off. I have enlarged the tree ring and mulched it well (and correctly...) Still, this year after the hot week and no rain we had, it yellowed again and i had to water it still. Then--I noticed the bark splitting near the base. :( Not sure what is happening, I thought I placed it well but maybe it needs a break from the hot afternoon sun. Maybe I should get another growing somewhere else in the yard that is not so hot. Or maybe the tree was doomed when I bought it. Sometimes we never know. But this is definitely a beautiful tree!

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    1. Diane, The Heronswood katsura intrigues me because of its smaller size. I might consider that for a replacement.

      Katsuras definitely want water when young. I did have to water mine a lot. The bark splitting near the base of yours is a worry--- that's exactly what did mine in. The shredding from the deer rub was up higher, so the bark split at the base on mine was from some other cause than deer damage. But I don't know what caused it other than this tree's propensity for catastrophe. Good luck with yours!

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  12. Mine is placed VERY near a rain barrel so is always getting watered. The propane tank people come at the end of the month. That is of course when my daughter is having a baby. Which will come first? She lives out west, so I will need a volunteer to hug my tree the day the workmen come. Don't males form attachments to trees too? Or only attachment to cranes and trucks that lift tanks?

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