November 8, 2012

In the Parking Lot

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.

 

14 comments:

  1. My time in Ithaca was centered around Sapsucker Woods and watching birds. We also camped and hiked a good bit...I remember "Tamarack Lean-to" among other sites. Lots of deer too.
    Here in Ontario though, I have a young Red Fox Katsura. This will be its second winter here. It has not yet leartned that it is supposed to change colour in the fall and have that wonderful scent...but thank you for telling me that the best is yet to come!

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    1. Marie, I hope your Red Fox has the characteristics of the species and that it does develop the wonderful fall scent!

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  2. How great to appreciate and take it all in. I can't say that I am familiar with katsura trees but your description made me want to learn more. I am all over any plant or tree that smells like sugar! I like how you described yourself as a pointer on the hunt---Good stuff!

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    1. Nicole, it amazes me that katsura trees are not better known. They are easy to grow, and I see them in parks and planted around everywhere, but few people know what they are.

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  3. If it's true that you learn something new every day then I just met my quota. Thanks for sharing this tidbit-I'd honestly never heard it before.

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    1. Sue, I am glad to introduce you a new factoid : ) And I hope you get the chance to sniff a katsura at some point in autumn.

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  4. Sounds delicious. I wonder if you could smell the fragrance if you put a handful of leaves on a table in a room with air currents.

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    1. Lee, interesting thought. I don't know if the leaves have the scent after they are removed, or when they have fallen. I will need to experiment with that idea and bring some inside!

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  5. Laurrie, I decided to plant Cercidiphyllum in my garden too! I liked it, have read in Encyclopedia that it grow in my 5a zone and its fall fragrance is like vanilla or caramel.

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    1. Nadezda, I'm glad you planted a katsura tree and I hope as it matures you get the wonderful caramel smell. It does smell a little like vanilla too.

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  6. How wonderful to find such an enchanting experience in a parking lot. Goes to show, you never know when joy will strike!

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    1. Barbara, that's what amazed me too, that such a wonderful experience could be found in the most mundane place.

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  7. That's awesome! I wish all parking lots were that fabulous! I've had those stop-in-my-tracks-to-sniff-like-a-hound moments, too. Wish I had room for a katsura, along with all the other plants you continually make me dream of.

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    1. Tammy, you are just gong to have to buy a bigger place, a country estate or farm. Then you can grow whatever you want : )

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