Friday, October 16, 2015

Sugar in the Air

Very few people smell it, but it is distinct and intoxicating to me. I have been on fall garden tours where I was stopped in my tracks by the sweet smell of sugar in the air, and no one else noticed a thing. Except our tour's arboretum guide -- he stopped too, we exchanged glances, we both sniffed, and we broke into smiles.

Katsura trees are nearby I said. Yes, he said. Over there. Cercidiphyllum japonicum.

No one else around us could detect the scent. That was at Polly Hill Arboretum on Martha's Vineyard last year.

I've gone on and on about katsura trees and their wonderful autumn scent for so long that I have gotten Jim to be able to smell them now, but few others ever notice.

At Cape Cod last week we stayed at a lovely resort in Chatham, and they had a small restaurant. Each day as we walked outside over to the main building, he commented that the pancakes smelled great, or that cookies were baking, or they must have just taken a cake out of the oven.

It's a katsura tree, I finally said. I looked for it and found a beautiful old specimen in a far courtyard, its leaves turning golden and scenting the air all around the resort with burnt sugar. Ah.

There are a couple streets in our neighborhood where many katsura trees were planted 10 and 15 years ago as yard specimens. They are mature now, and it's a delight to walk the neighborhood at this time of year.

I took these photos with my iPhone as I walked around the neighborhood, but got worried that anyone who saw me would become alarmed at someone audibly sniffing the air and snapping shots of their homes. So I only took a few pictures.

Some katsura trees are golden at this time in mid-October. They have reliably spectacular fall color, and it's when the leaves turn that they give off the delicate sugar smell.

Other katsura trees in the same area are still green and will color only briefly before they lose their leaves in November. I have smelled burnt sugar even after every last leaf had dropped and the lawn service raked them all up and the branches were bare. The scent was still there.

One home has a small grove of three katsuras which is lovely, and the fragrance is stronger there. But it's not like you can walk up to a tree and get a good whiff of it. The scent comes on the air at a distance and you have to wait for it to breeze by you.

I planted a katsura tree in my yard. It's good sized, but still relatively young. The heart shaped leaves are all still green, and I hope they start to turn before too long.

I planted it near the porch so I can sit out there by myself on a warm fall afternoon, and avoid worrying the neighbors on my walks through the neighborhood sniffing and getting high on their trees.

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