If you are looking for an attractive ornamental tree for your yard, there are the old standbys like crabapple, flowering cherry, hawthorn, or Japanese maple. While any one of these trees will add interest for part of the season, there are less common ones that have four-season value and are sure to have your friends asking, "Wow, what kind of tree is that?"
The Katsura Tree
Pyramidal when young, the 40 to 60–foot–tall tree assumes a graceful, rounded shape with maturity. The spring leaves start out in a rosy purple color and change to blue–green. In autumn, the 2 to 4–inch–long, heart–shaped foliage develops shades of yellow, orange, and apricot. As the leaves drop, they scent the air with a sweet, spicy fragrance with hints of cinnamon or caramel. Its lightly–peeling, shaggy brown bark carries katsura's charm right through the winter.
The Persian Parrotia
This spectacular performer is sure to turn heads any time of the year. It grows a modest 20 to 40 feet tall with a 15 to 30–foot spread. In March or early April, a haze of small crimson flowers covers the tree, followed by developing reddish–purple leaves that mature to a deep green. It is parrotia's brilliant autumn foliage, however, that really steals the show, with a breathtaking display of bright yellow, orange, and scarlet leaves. Exfoliating bark that reveals shades of creamy white, green, gray, and brown tones give this tree exceptional winter interest.
Another small tree (20 to 40 feet tall), the Stewartia will brighten up any landscape. Its 2 to 3–inch–wide, white flowers with orange anthers resemble camellia blossoms and open in July. Young leaves start with a purple tint but later turn dark green. Stewartia's stunning fall foliage is orange, red, or both. Its showy bark unfolds in layers, displaying a mosaic of grays, reds, and oranges that won't go unnoticed in any season.
These three offbeat ornamentals are hardy to Zone 4 and are seldom bothered by insects or diseases. It is probably by coincidence that all of these trees end in the letter "a," but we think that for the outstanding job they perform in the landscape, this should probably be changed to an "A+."