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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.