Of course, you can come to the Arnold Arboretum this week and be awestruck by the magnolias and flowering cherries currently drawing crowds. But, there are also subtle jewels to be sought out, and one of my favorites of spring is the katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum), a native of Japan and China. The key is to visit these wonderful trees on a sunny day.

Like many plants, as the leaves flush from the bud, they are rich in anthocyanin pigments (a sunscreen of sorts to protect the photosynthetic apparatus from the bright sun) that create an almost blood red coloration. These leaves literally glow in the sun (upper left image, 391-2017*A). If you let your eyes wander to the edge of each immature leaf, you will discover a set of glistening droplets at the ends of the minute leaf teeth (upper left image again; lower right image, 397-2009*C). These jewel-like secretions, whose function is unknown, are only present for a brief time and then are shed.

Cercidiphyllum japonicum leaf and male flower by Ned Friedman
Ned Friedman

While visiting katsura trees at the Arnold Arboretum (or elsewhere), keep a lookout for their apetalous unisexual flowers. Individual trees either bear pollen-producing flowers (lower right, 698-81*A, a dangling bouquet of stamens) or seed-producing flowers (upper right, 13008*A) where the only parts to emerge from the bud are the pollen-catching and eye-catching bright red stigmas.

Cercidiphyllum japonica leaf margin and pollen-producing flowers by Ned Friedman
Ned Friedman

(Noting that my last Post was also focused on red stigmas—of the hazels and filberts—I suspect I am a bit obsessed with early spring wind pollinated woody plants.)
If you crave more Arnold Arboretum plant images, follow me on Instagram @nedfriedman.