The next time you’re in the Poplar Circle area of Freedom Park, pause to admire this beauty.

Katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum)

Katsuratree comes to us from Asia — Japan and China to be precise — and we have this gentlemen to thank:

Thomas Hogg, Jr. (1819-1892)

Beginning in 1862, Thomas Hogg, Jr. was stationed at a new U.S. consulate at Kanagawa, south of Tokyo. The man knew plants. His father, an emigrant from Scotland to New York City, had operated a nursery on the site of today’s Madison Square Park (Broadway and 23rd) in Manhattan. Thomas’s brother James took over the business after their father died.

Immediately upon arriving in Japan, Thomas Hogg started sending home seeds of plants entirely new to North America. In the 1870s, he made a second trip to Japan and continued his collecting.

Everything from our wonderful Japanese maples to our evil, evil kudzu vines can be traced back to the industrious Mr. Hogg.

Inman Park is simply full of Hogg’s legacy, good and bad: fragrant snowbell, Japanese snowbell, Kousa dogwood, varieties of camellia, ‘Limelight’ hydrangea, oriental bittersweet, Japanese knotweed, and more.

He was justly proud of having introduced the katsura to these shores. Its botanical name is Cercidiphyllum japonicum (because its heart-shaped leaf is similar in shape to our redbuds, the genus of which is Cercis).

Katsura leaves (note the reddish color of new leaves)

In its natural habitat, katsura can grow quite large and live a long time. A man named Charles Sprague Sargent, who was the first director of Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum, had a photo taken of this tree on his trip to Japan in 1892. See how older katsuras tend to develop multiple trunks:

In fact, there’s a katsura on the grounds of the Arnold Arboretum with just such multiple trunks. This tree was grown from seed collected by another 19th-century botanist, a man named William S. Clark, during his 1876 expedition to Japan:

Arnold Arboretum katsura

There’s lots to love about katsura. Check out this fall foliage:

Katsura in autumn

Also in fall, the leaves emit a smell similar to caramel or cotton-candy, though not everyone can smell it. It’s generated by a chemical compound called maltol, which is also emitted by such items as bread, warmed butter, chicory, and cocoa.

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