If you’re walking along Garden Way after a trip to the Greenmarket, and you happen to catch a whiff of what smells suspiciously like cotton candy, there’s no need to worry–you’re not losing your mind! Just freeze. Now retrace your steps, maybe a few paces back toward the tram stop. Turn slightly toward the Library Building. At the right time of year, standing in just the right spot and with the wind in your favor, you should be looking at–and catching the aroma of–one of our true gems of autumn foliage.
At the peak of its fall change, the katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) is covered in nodding sprays of glowing apricot- and lemon-colored leaves, but what they give off is far and away the prime reason for its fandom. Like certain citrus trees, scooping up a handful of fallen leaves and crushing them in your hands releases a cloud of magnetic fragrance. However, you won’t pick up the pungent, spiced notes of a tropical fruit tree. Instead, you’ll find yourself wondering if you’ve wandered into one of Willy Wonka’s confectionery daydreams. The heart-shaped leaves smell exactly like cotton candy. Or maybe marshmallow fluff. Or caramel, or brown sugar, or vanilla pudding! Whatever this tree smells like to you, it’s seldom that a visitor to the NYBG fails to fall in love with the katsura’s rare talent.