By Katherine Wagner-Reiss

Heart-shaped leaves are intrinsic to the beauty of Cercidiphyllum japonicum; katsura-tree, the common name, is borrowed from the Japanese name for the tree.

Cercidiphyllum means having leaves like Cercis, the redbud tree, which also has heart-shaped (cordate) leaves. Of note, these trees are not even in the same plant family.

1932-0589*A Heart-shaped leaves of Cercidiphyllum japonicum

1993-226*B Heart-shaped leaves of Cercis chinensis ‘Avondale’

The leaves of the two species can look similar that it is helpful to note, as shown in the photo below, that Cercidiphyllum leaves are opposite (short arrows), subopposite (medium arrows), or occasionally alternate (long arrows) on the stem. Cercis leaves are consistently alternate on the stem.  

1986-289*E Cercidiphyllum japonicum with reddish new leaves

Katsura-trees are dioecious, i.e. male flowers and female flowers are borne on separate trees. Wind pollination results in fruit pods called follicles on the female trees. 

932-1811*A Cercidiphyllum japonicum var. sinense. The fruits contain winged seeds.

In winter, the deciduous heart-shaped leaves are absent, but the buds that will yield those leaves in spring are present. Winter is a great time to hone tree identification skills: tree habit, bark, and buds are the clues.

1932-0589*A Opposite buds of Cercidiphyllum japonicum (katsura-tree)

The Morris Arboretum is home to a particularly magnificent Cercidiphyllum japonicum specimen. Planted between 1901 and 1909 by John Morris, this enormous tree has been voted the most notable tree of the entire collection by the Morris Arboretum staff; plus, it is a Pennsylvania state champion for the species.  

32-0589 Champion Cercidophyllum japonicum (katsura-tree)

The Morris Arboretum has a total of thirteen Cercidiphyllum japonicum trees to enjoy, including five of the variant sinense and one cultivar, i.e. ‘Morioka Weeping.’ The Pennsylvania state champion katsura-tree is especially easy to locate: it’s on the Great Trees Tour along with 20 other outstanding trees in the Morris Arboretum collection.

Katherine has her Certificate in Botany from the New York Botanical Garden and is a botanical tour guide and free-lance writer. You can contact her with comments or requests for photos at