Description and adaptation
Trumpet-creeper Family (Bignoniaceae). It is a perennial deciduous tree which readily grows in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 9. This is a U.S. native. At maturity, the height can vary from about 25 to 40 feet. Catalpas prefer moist, deep, well drained soil, but adapts to dry or wet soils. The soil pH may range from 5.5 to 7.0. It prefers an open sunny space to partial shade. The crown is often forked. Its longevity is about 40 to 50 years.
The tree bark is separated into irregular shallow fissures with reddish-brown scales. On young tree seedlings the bark is thin and easily damaged by impact, or rodents.
Twigs in winter have a unique identifying characteristic. They have sunken leaf scars which resemble suction cups. Their whorled arrangement of 3 “moon crater” scars per node is another trait easily identified. They are grayish-brown in color.
Leaves are simple, may be opposite or whorled (3 per node), pinnately veined, 5 to 12 inches long , 4 to 6 inches broad, heart shaped at the base, and have a long petiole with entire margins and soft pubescence on the underside, which is also a lighter green than the top surface.
The flowers of catalpa are perfect. Flowering takes place from May through July. They occur in bell-shaped corollas of 5 lobes. Individual flowers are showy, with the 5 petals in each flower being unequal in size, white with purple spots and orange stripes at the throat, in branched, upright clusters. The petals are up to 1.5 inches long.
Seedpods are slender and green in the summer growing from 6 to 24 inches long, and ½ inch wide looking ‘cigar like’. They mature in the autumn, turn brown, split open lengthwise to let seeds fall in the spring. The seedpod generally stays attached to the tree limb over winter.
It was first cultivated in 1726. It was originally found in the Gulf Coast states of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. It has since spread to many states east of the Rocky Mountains.
Catalpa, katalpa, American catalpa, eastern catalpa, catawba, bean tree, Indian bean, Indian cigar tree, Shawnee wood, caterpillar tree, worm tree, fish bait tree, fisherman’s tree
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Regularity: Regularly occurring
When placed as an ornamental in a yard setting care must be taken to ensure it is not too close to a building, fence, property line or septic system. Ample space should be provided to let it reach a mature height.
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable
Rounded National Status Rank: N3 - Vulnerable
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G3 - Vulnerable
Reasons: Catalpa bignonioides is native in the southeastern United States on the Gulf Coastal Plain (western Florida and southwestern Georgia to Mississippi or perhaps Louisiana). The species is cultivated much more extensively, and has sometimes naturalized. It occurs natively in rich moist soil along streambanks and riverbanks, in floodplain forests and low woodlands, and on natural levees.
Please consult the PLANTS Web site and your State Department of Natural Resources for this plant’s current status (e.g. threatened or endangered species, state noxious status, and wetland indicator values).
Pests and potential problems
Larva of the catalpa sphinx caterpillar (Ceratomia catalpae) eats leaves. Almost complete defoliation may occur in some years.
Verticillum wilt will make the branches die, and can eventually kill trees. Powdery mildew causes a white powdery coating on the leaves. When severe the leaves turn yellow and drop.
Biological Research Needs: Evaluate native range: for example, Godfrey (1988) considered the native range to extend only to southeastern Mississippi, whereas Thomas and Allen (1996) and Stones and Urbatsch (1991) consider the species to be native in Louisiana.
Please contact your local agricultural extension specialist or county weed specialist to learn what works best in your area and how to use it safely. Always read label and safety instructions for each control method. Trade names and control measures appear in this document only to provide specific information. USDA, NRCS does not guarantee or warranty the products and control methods named, and other products may be equally effective.
Cultivars, improved and selected materials (and area of origin)
There are two species of catalpa native to North America, northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) and southern catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides). They appear very similar but are two distinct species. Two varieties of C. bignonioides have been documented: ‘Aurea’ and a dwarf variety named ‘Nana’.
It is an invasive, weedy tree which escapes cultivation easily. The flowers, long seedpods and seeds fall down from spring through winter, and create a mess on the ground anywhere near the tree.
The biggest management problems with a catalpa tree used as an ornamental are litter and smell. It will drop a heavy load of flowers in the spring, then a plentiful supply of leaves in the fall, and finally a lot of large seedpods in the winter. Green leaves give off a disagreeable odor when crushed.
This plant may become weedy or invasive in some regions or habitats and may displace desirable vegetation if not properly managed. Please consult with your local NRCS Field Office, Cooperative Extension Service office, or state natural resource or agriculture department regarding its status and use. Weed information is also available from the PLANTS Web site at plants.usda.gov.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Southern catalpa is primarily used today as a large ornamental shade tree. It is widely planted in urban areas as a street and lawn tree. Conservation uses include being planted in windbreaks. Some plant it to attract the catalpa worm, which are harvested and used as fish bait.
Catalpa bignonioides is a species of Catalpa that is native to the southeastern United States in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Common names include southern catalpa, cigar tree, and Indian bean tree.
It is a medium-sized deciduous tree growing to 15–18 metres (49–59 ft) tall, with a trunk up to 1 metre (3 ft 3 in) diameter, with brown to gray bark, maturing into hard plates or ridges. The short thick trunk supports long and straggling branches which form a broad and irregular head. The roots are fibrous and branches are brittle. Its juices are watery and bitter.
The leaves are large and heart shaped, being 20–30 cm long and 15–20 cm broad. The bright green leaves appear late and as they are full grown before the flower clusters open, add much to the beauty of the blossoming tree. They secrete nectar, a most unusual characteristic for leaves, by means of groups of tiny glands in the axils of the primary veins.
The flowers are 2.5–4 cm across, trumpet shaped, white with yellow spots inside; they grow in panicles of 20-40. In the northern states of the USA, it is a late bloomer, putting forth great panicles of white flowers in June or early in July when the flowers of other trees have mostly faded. These cover the tree so thickly as almost to conceal the full grown leaves. The general effect of the flower cluster is a pure white, but the individual corolla is spotted with purple and gold, and some of these spots are arranged in lines along a ridge, so as to lead directly to the honey sweets within. A single flower when fully expanded is two inches long and an inch and a half wide. It is two-lipped and the lips are lobed, two lobes above and three below, as is not uncommon with such corollas. The flower is perfect, possessing both stamens and pistils; nevertheless, the law of elimination is at work and of the five stamens that we should expect to find, three have aborted, ceased to bear anthers and have become filaments simply. Then, too, the flowers refuse to be self-fertilized. Each flower has its own stamens and its own stigma but the lobes of the stigma remain closed until after the anthers have opened and discharged their pollen; after they have withered and become effete then the stigma opens and invites the wandering bee. The entire Pink family behave in this way.
The fruit is a long, thin bean like pod 20–40 cm long and 8–10 mm diameter; it often stays attached to tree during winter. The pod contains numerous flat light brown seeds with two papery wings.
It is closely related to the Northern Catalpa (C. speciosa), and can be distinguished by the flowering panicles, which bear a larger number of smaller flowers, and the slightly slenderer seed pods.
- Bark: Light brown tinged with red. Branchlets forking regularly by pairs, at first green, shaded with purple and slightly hairy, later gray or yellowish brown, finally reddish brown. Contains tannin.
- Wood: Light brown, sapwood nearly white; light, soft, coarse-grained and durable in contact with the soil.
- Winter buds: No terminal bud, uppermost bud is axillary. Minute, globular, deep in the bark. Outer scales fall when spring growth begins, inner scales enlarge with the growing shoot, become green, hairy and sometimes two inches long.
- Leaves: Opposite, or in threes, simple, six to ten inches long, four to five broad. Broadly ovate, cordate at base, entire, sometimes wavy, acute or acuminate. Feather-veined, midrib and primary veins prominent. Clusters of dark glands, which secrete nectar are found in the axils of the primary veins. They come out of the bud involute, purplish, when full grown are bright green, smooth above, pale green, and downy beneath. When bruised they give a disagreeable odor. They turn dark and fall after the first severe frost. Petioles stout, terete, long.
- Flowers: June, July. Perfect, white, borne in many-flowered thyrsoid panicles, eight to ten inches long. Pedicels slender, downy.
- Calyx: Globular and pointed in the bud; finally splitting into two, broadly ovate, entire lobes, green or light purple.
- Corolla: Campanulate, tube swollen, slightly oblique, two-lipped, five-lobed, the two lobes above smaller than the three below, imbricate in bud; limb spreading, undulate, when fully expanded is an inch and a half wide and nearly two inches long, white, marked on the inner surface with two rows of yellow blotches and in the throat on the lower lobes with purple spots.
- Stamens: Two, rarely four, inserted near the base of the corolla, introrse, slightly exserted; anthers oblong, two-celled, opening longitudinally; filaments flattened, thread-like. Sterile filaments three, inserted near base of corolla, often rudimentary.
- Pistil: Ovary superior, two-celled; style long, thread-like, with a two-lipped stigma. Ovules numerous.
- Fruit: Long slender capsule, nearly cylindrical, two-celled, partition at right angles to the valves. Six to twenty inches long, brown; hangs on the tree all winter, splitting before it falls. Seeds an inch long, one-fourth of an inch wide, silvery gray, winged on each side and ends of wings fringed.
In the USA, Catalpa bignonioides is undoubtedly a Southern tree. Europeans first observed the tree growing in the fields of the Cherokee Native American tribes, who called it Catalpa. However, it can flourish in the North as well, and accordingly its original range is somewhat in doubt.
Despite its southern origins, it has been able to grow almost anywhere in the United States and southernmost Canada, and has become widely naturalized outside its restricted native range.
Cultivation and uses
It is widely grown as an ornamental tree. The Catalpa has the distinction of bearing some of the showiest flowers of all the American native trees. Its value in this respect has long been recognized and it holds an assured place in the parks and gardens of all temperate countries. It has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit., as has the gold-leafed variety C. bignonioides 'Aurea'. The purple-leaved hybrid C. × erubescens 'Purpurea' syn. C. bignonioides 'Purpurea', has also achieved the award.
It prefers moist soil and full sun. It is easily raised from seeds which germinate early in the first season. It also multiplies readily from cuttings. The tree is fairly free from fungal diseases and has few insect enemies.
The wood is brittle and hard, but does not rot easily; it is used for fence posts and railroad ties.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Catalpa bignonioides.|
- *Germplasm Resources Information Network: Catalpa bignonioides
- Keeler, Harriet L. (1900). Our Native Trees and How to Identify Them. New York: Charles Scriber's Sons. pp. 225–228.
- "RHS Plant Selector - Catalpa bignonioides". Retrieved 13 June 2013.
- "RHS Plant Selector - Catalpa bignonioides 'Aurea'". Retrieved 13 June 2013.
- "RHS Plant Selector - Catalpa × erubescens 'Purpurea'". Retrieved 13 June 2013.
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