In autumn they smell of vanilla or burnt sugar. It reminds me of angel food cake baking, or of being at a country fair in autumn, with cotton candy machines spinning out fluffy cones of stickiness that sweeten the air.
There was a katsura tree on the street next to us, and then two at the top of another street. The amazing thing was that in the early part of November, the leaves were all down. I did not even notice that there were katsuras nearby until I caught that fragrance, then looked around, and there I was, standing right near a bare and leafless tree.
There were dried brown leaves at the foot of each tree. No leaves remained on the branches. Can it be that the aroma lingers after the leaves have fallen? Wow.
I thought it was the coloring of the leaves in fall that produced the sweet fragrance. But all three of the trees I saw on my walk were bare. They had lost all their leaves and what laid at the base of the trunks were just a few dried remnants, not a big pile of freshly fallen leaves.
The few dried leaves on the ground did not smell like anything; it was the air that smelled.
Jim didn't smell the fragrance at all, although he knows what I am talking about since he did get the wafting scent from a whole stand of katsuras in the parking lot at Cornell Plantations when we were there in October 2012.
A mature katsura can be a huge spreading thing. Young ones, like the trees I saw on my walk, are stiffly pyramidal, usually branched low to the ground, and kind of twiggy. Once the scent alerted me, I could tell by the shape what the tree was, even though it had no leaves.
|Young katsura at Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, Mass.|
|Young katsura at Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Mass.|
|Mature katsura at Arnold Arboretum at Harvard.|
Naturally, I have a katsura tree in my yard, planted for its shade (eventually), its pretty redbud-like leaves and its orange fall color. And of course for the promise of caramels in autumn. But my newly installed tree had no scent this year. It was just put in this September, so as a new transplant it is adjusting.
But how I want to smell that burnt sugar aroma while sitting on the porch some day.
It's November now and time to think of pumpkin pies and stuffing and turkeys. But for some reason I am dreaming of angel food cake. There is a mix in the pantry. I might ask Jim to make one, just so I can smell it baking.
Or I might go take a walk in the neighborhood for the same hint of burnt sugar with far fewer calories.