This post has no photos, because I cannot show you what I want you to experience.
I want you to smell the delightful burnt sugar, teasing, wafting fragrance of a katsura tree in autumn.
In mid October we went to Cornell Plantations, the botanical gardens at Ithaca College in New York state. Lovely gardens, beautiful arboretum, a sleek visitor center, and charming wildflower walk along the river --- all nice. But the highlight of the entire tour was the parking lot.
I got out of the car. I started toward the entrance and noticed the delicate scent of sugar. The smell you get from the browned crust of an angel food cake coming out of the oven. Cotton candy at the state fair. Caramel melting.
I looked all around, and could not locate where this intoxicating fragrance came from. I stood in the parking lot like a pointer on the hunt, nose in the air, sniffing.
There they were -- lining the lot were several young katsura trees. Their fall foliage had mostly dropped, but a few still held their autumn leaves. You can't walk up to a katsura tree and smell its foliage. You can only catch whiffs from afar, when the sun and air currents bring it to you.
And there, in the parking lot, on a cool October day, conditions were perfect.
Katsura is Cercidiphyllum japonicum. It is a tall spreading tree with lovely attributes, and I grow a young one. Nice shape, leaves that are heart shaped like redbuds, good fall color, a fast grower.
But the one attribute that endears this tree to me is the scent of its fall foliage.
It is not a floral scent, it is a distinctly sweet sugar smell, and it is not always detectable. You have to be away from a tree to pick it up. I have experienced it around other katsura trees (my own, a four year old sapling, has yet to give off any sugar scent), but I never had such an overwhelming, deeply satisfying, soul enriching experience as I did standing by the car sniffing the air that day.
The parking lot at Cornell Plantations --- visit it in fall.