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Overview

Comprehensive Description

Comments

Northern Catalpa is one of two species in this genus that occur in Illinois -- the other species, Catalpa bignonioides (Southern Catalpa), is native to a fairly small region of southeastern United States, but not Illinois. This latter species is also cultivated throughout the state as a landscape tree and it occasionally escapes. Distinguishing these two species is rather difficult as they both have similar leaves, flowers, and seedpods. The following characteristics can be used to distinguish Northern Catalpa from its more southern sibling
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Description

This medium-sized tree is 40-70' tall at maturity, forming a trunk up to 3½' across and a crown that is more or less ovoid.  The relatively stout trunk can be straight or somewhat crooked, while the larger branches are ascending to widely spreading and rather crooked. On mature trees, trunk bark is gray-brown, rough-textured, and longitudinally furrowed between narrow scaly plates. The bark of larger branches is more gray and less rough-textured, while young twigs are brown to reddish brown, smooth, and hairless. Young twigs have scattered white lenticels (air pores) and depressed leaf scars. Leaves occur oppositely or in whorls of 3; they tend to hang downward from the twigs. The leaf blades are 6-12" long and 4-8" across; they are cordate to cordate-ovate in shape and smooth along their margins. Sometimes a leaf blade may have a pair of shallow obtuse lobes. The upper surface of the leaf blades is yellowish green, light green, or medium green and hairless (or nearly so), while the lower surface is more pale and short-pubescent. The petioles are 4-6" long, light green, and either hairless or mostly hairless. This tree produces erect pyramidal panicles of flowers about 4-12" tall and nearly as much across; there is typically 10-30 flowers per panicle. Individual flowers are 1½-2" across and 2-2½" long; each flower has a broad tubular corolla with 4-5 frilly lobes, a calyx that is deeply divided into 2 lobes, a 2-celled pistil with a white style, 2 long fertile stamens, and 3 short infertile stamens (staminodia). The corolla is bright white overall; it has purple-dotted lines and patches of bright yellow along the lower surface of its throat. The lobes of the calyx are oval-ovate, light green to purple, and either hairless or finely pubescent. The branching stalks of the panicle are green and hairless. The blooming period occurs from late spring to early summer, lasting about 2 weeks. Individual flowers remain in bloom for only a short time; they have a pleasant fragrance. Afterwards, fertile flowers are replaced by narrowly cylindrical seedpods that are 10-18" in length and about ½" across; they are either straight or slightly curved, and droop downward from short stalks. Immature seedpods are green, while mature seedpods are dark brown. During the fall and winter, the seedpods slowly divide into 2 parts, releasing their seeds. The seeds are arranged in conjoined pairs with outer fibrous wings; they are covered by a papery membrane that is light brown. Each pair of winged seeds is about 1-2" long and ¼" (or a little more) across. Individual seed bodies are about 5 mm. long and 4 mm. across, oval in shape, and flattened; their tips are well-rounded, rather than pointed. The pairs of winged seeds are very light and easily blown about by the wind. The root system is relatively shallow and spreading. The large deciduous leaves become pale yellow or pale greenish yellow during the autumn.
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Description

General: It is a perennial deciduous tree which readily grows in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 8. It has moderate to fast growth, tending to grow rapidly when juvenile, but slows with maturity.

The height at 20 years is about 20 feet. The biggest northern catalpa recorded is in Indiana. It is 85 feet tall with a spread of 81 feet and a circumference of 290 inches at 4.5 feet above ground level. 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. When it grows from seed the tree trunk rarely divides into two or more branches about the same size. If the tree is cut and grows back there is prolific spouting from the stump. The bole may be straight, but it is usually crooked. It is tall with an irregular, open-rounded to narrow-oval crown. This tree comes into leaf very late in the spring and it is one of the first to lose its leaves in the fall. Its longevity is about 60 years.

The tree bark ranges from scaly to ridged, to blocky plates. On a mature tree trunk the bark may be from ¾ to 1 inch thick, light grayish brown in color, and broken into longitudinal, scaly, flat ridges. 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 scars per node is another trait easily identified.

Leaves are simple, large, ovate to ovate-oblong, from 8 to 12 inches long, are heart-shaped tropical looking without any lobes and are yellowish green in color. The leaf margins are entire, pointed at the tips and rounded to cordate at the bases. The top of the leaf is darker green than the underside which is also pubescent. Leaves are generally opposite on large branches and often whorled in 3 on young stems. Leaves may scorch and drop during droughts. They turn an undistinguished yellow in the fall before dropping. The leaves do not emit an unpleasant aroma when bruised as is the case with the southern catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides Walt.), which are also more abruptly pointed.

The flowers of catalpa are perfect. Flowering takes place in late spring to early summer. They occur as large clusters of showy, white, bell-shaped corollas of 5 lobes with ruffled edges and yellow, orange or purple interior spotting or streaking. Individual flowers are showy, tubular up to ½ inch broad. They are branched in about 10 inch clusters at the stem tips. The northern catalpa flowers about 2 to 3 weeks earlier than the southern catalpa, which also has more spotted flowers. Flowers are good for honey production.

Seedpods are slender and green in the summer growing from 10 to 24 inches long, looking similar to an exaggerated green bean. They mature in the fall, turn dark brown, split open lengthwise to let seeds fall in the spring. The whole pod is often blown off the tree. The shape and color of the mature seedpod gives rise to the common name of cigar tree.

The southern catalpa seeds are drawn out more to a point while the northern catalpas seeds are blunter at the end. Seeds are about 1 inch long and 1/3 inch wide. They have a light brown coat and wings rounded at the ends terminating in a fringe of short hairs. There are approximately 20,480 seeds per pound. Seeds which are collected after overwintering in the mature seedpod have a higher germination rate than those collected in the fall and stored.

The wood is of moderately light density (specific gravity 0.42 oven dry), with pale gray sapwood and grayish brown heartwood. It has a faint, aromatic, non characteristic odor and no characteristic taste. It is ring porous, coarse-grained, soft, not strong, but very durable in contact with the soil.

Distribution: For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.

Habitat: Prior to European settlement it was native to a small area of the central Mississippi Valley basin, western Tennessee, north east Arkansas, the lowlands of south east Mississippi and southern Illinois and Indiana. Farmers once planted catalpas in groves to provide shade for hog lots. It is now readily found from Kansas south to Texas and eastward to Louisiana.

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Alternative names

Hardy catalpa, western catalpa, Catawba, Catawba-tree, cigar tree, Indian bean tree, Indian cigar, Shawnee wood, early-flowering catalpa. The name ‘catalpa’ comes from the Cherokee Indian language as the word for the tree. ‘Speciosa’ means “showy” for the large and numerous flowers.

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Distribution

Range and Habitat in Illinois

Northern Catalpa is an uncommon tree in natural areas; it is native to southern and southeastern Illinois, while in other areas of the state it has escaped from cultivation (see Distribution Map). Originally, this tree was native to a small region of the mid-Mississippi valley. Habitats include mesic woodlands, moist floodplain and bottomland woodlands, moist woodland openings, higher ground in swamps, powerline clearances in moist wooded areas, railroad clearances in moist wooded areas, woodland borders, edges of yards in suburban areas, and urban parks. Areas with a history of disturbance are preferred. This tree continues to spread in areas outside of its original range. It is often cultivated as an ornamental landscape tree.
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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Exotic

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Unknown/Undetermined

Confidence: Confident

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

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Global Range: Native range not well determined, in central U.S., now widely naturalized in northern and eastern U.S. as well. According to Weakley (1996), the native range was apparently from southern Indiana and southern Illinois south to southern Tennessee and eastern Arkansas. There is also a record for catalpa wood from an archaeological site in West Virginia (Strausbaugh & Core, addenda), but that could have been a trade item.

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Distribution: Native of U.S.A.
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Adaptation

It has been extensively propagated for over 200 years. It can now be found in most eastern states, and planted to some extent in Europe and New Zealand.

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Physical Description

Morphology

Description

Trees up to 30 m tall. Leaves cordate-ovate; lamina 14-21 x 11.5-17 cm, entire-undulate, acuminate, glabrous, undersurface, (especially the veins) tomentose with yellowish hairs; petiole 4-12.5 cm long. Panicle 12.5-25 cm long. Corolla tube c. 3.5 cm long; lobes 5,subequal. Capsule 24-30 cm long; cylindrical. Seeds with wing 5.5-6 x 30-35 mm; wing acutish and laciniate at the end.
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Ecology

Habitat

Range and Habitat in Illinois

Northern Catalpa is an uncommon tree in natural areas; it is native to southern and southeastern Illinois, while in other areas of the state it has escaped from cultivation (see Distribution Map). Originally, this tree was native to a small region of the mid-Mississippi valley. Habitats include mesic woodlands, moist floodplain and bottomland woodlands, moist woodland openings, higher ground in swamps, powerline clearances in moist wooded areas, railroad clearances in moist wooded areas, woodland borders, edges of yards in suburban areas, and urban parks. Areas with a history of disturbance are preferred. This tree continues to spread in areas outside of its original range. It is often cultivated as an ornamental landscape tree.
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Dispersal

Establishment

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.

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Associations

Faunal Associations

The flowers of Northern Catalpa are cross-pollinated by bumblebees (Bombus spp.), the Large Carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica), and various moths that are primarily nocturnal visitors. Other floral visitors include honeybees (Apis mellifera), skippers, ants, and flies, but they are less effective at cross-pollination. These insects usually obtain nectar from the flowers. This tree also has extra-floral nectaries on its leaves, which secrete nectar in greater amounts than normal when the leaves are damaged. This attracts such predacious insects as ants, ladybird beetles, and parasitoid wasps, which feed on nectar that is easy to access. It is thought that such insects help to protect this tree from various insect pests that feed on the leaves. These pests include the caterpillars of Ceratomia catalpae (Catalpa Sphinx) and Xylophanes tersa (Tersa Sphinx), the larvae of Contarinia catalpae (Catalpa Midge), the aphids Aphis citricola and Myzus persicae, and Pseudococcus comstocki (Comstock Mealybug); both the aphids and mealybug are highly polyphagous. Birds and mammals apparently make little use of the leaves or seeds of this tree as a food source. However, when little else is available, rabbits and small rodents will gnaw on the bark of saplings. Sometimes the broken-off branches and trunks of older trees develop cavities that are used as dens by tree squirrels and other small mammals, or they are occupied by Screech Owls and other cavity-nesting birds. Robins and other birds sometimes build nests in the branches.
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Flower-Visiting Insects of Northern Catalpa in Illinois

Catalpa speciosa (Northern Catalpa)
(Bees suck nectar or collect pollen, while other insects suck nectar only; according to Stephenson, honeybees, skippers, and ants are not effective at cross-pollination; the nectar is toxic to ants and skippers, but not bees and moths; most of the moths were nocturnal visitors; except for a single observation from Fleming as indicated below, all observations are from Stephenson or Stephenson & Thomas)

Bees (long-tongued)
Apidae (Apinae): Apis mellifera sn np; Apidae (Bombini): Bombus bimaculatus sn cp; Anthophoridae (Xylocopini): Xylocopa virginica sn cp

Ants
Formicidae: Camponotus nearcticus sn np, Camponotus novaeboracensis sn np, Crematogaster cerasi sn np, Formica lasioides sn np, Formica nitidiventris sn np, Formica pallidefulva sn np, Prenolepis imparis sn np

Skippers
Hesperiidae: Poanes hobomok sn np

Moths
Ctenuchidae: Cisseps fulvicollis sn, Ctenucha virginica sn; Geometridae: Eubaphe mendica sn, Euchlaena effecta sn, Euchlaena serrata sn, Eusarca confusaria sn, Itame sp. sn, Lytrosis unitaria sn, Scopula limboundata sn, Tetracis crocallata sn, Xanthotype sospeta sn; Lasiocampidae: Malacosoma americanum sn; Noctuidae: Diachrysia balluca sn, Plusia sp. sn; Sphingidae: Sphinx eremitus (Flm) sn

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In Great Britain and/or Ireland:
Foodplant / parasite
mainly epiphyllous conidial anamorph of Erysiphe elevata parasitises live leaf of Catalpa speciosa
Remarks: season: 7-

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Life History and Behavior

Cyclicity

Flower/Fruit

Fl.Per.: April.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Catalpa speciosa

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N4 - Apparently Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G4 - Apparently Secure

Reasons: Difficult to determine native range in central United States, and hence difficult to rank, nevertheless locally frequent in portions of presumed original range. More characteristically in backwater swamps, rather than along riverbanks (L. Stritch, pers. comm., 1998).

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Status

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).

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Threats

Pests and potential problems

Larvae of the catalpa sphinx caterpillar (Ceratomia catalpae) eat the tree’s leaves. This causes significantly more nectar than normal to seep out of the damaged leaves. Almost complete defoliation may occur in some years. This increased nectar attracts various species of ants, ladybird beetles and a parasitoid. These predaceous insects attack and/or remove the eggs and young larvae of the catalpa sphinx. The secretion of extrafloral nectar and its subsequent harvesting by insects is mutually beneficial to both the catalpa tree and the predaceous insects.

Rabbits are especially damaging in their girdling of young stems.

Immature seeds in the pods are often destroyed by a small yellow grub, the larva of a gnat.

Catalpa midge (Cecidomyia catalpae Comstock) causes leaf spots, injures terminal buds and branch tips, as well as seeds in the pods.

Brown leaf spots on leaves are often created by the fungi Macrosporium catalpae. This is rarely a serious problem so no chemical treatment is recommended. Catalpa is also susceptible to the decay fungus Polystictus versicolor. It can severely damage catalpa trees after about 20 years of age in the western part of its planted range.

Powdery mildew causes a white powdery coating on the leaves. When severe the leaves turn yellow and drop.

Verticillum wilt will make the branches die, and can eventually kill trees. A hard to find symptom of verticillum wilt is discoloration of the sapwood.

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Management

Biological Research Needs: Study of early accounts needed to determine pre-cultivation range.

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Control

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.

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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. One variety of C. speciosa has been documented: pulverulenta from Paul & Son.

Contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly Soil Conservation Service) office for more information. Look in the phone book under ”United States Government.” The Natural Resources Conservation Service will be listed under the subheading “Department of Agriculture.”

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Seed production

Catalpas can readily be grown from seed. Research shows seeds collected after overwintering in the seedpods had better germination than those collected in the fall and stored inside. Root cuttings may also be used to propagate trees.

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Environmental concerns

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.

Its brittle wood makes its branches subject to wind and ice damage.

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The biggest management problem with a catalpa tree used as an ornamental is litter. 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.

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Weediness

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.

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Cultivation

The preference is full or partial sun, moist well-drained conditions, and fertile soil that contains loam or silt-loam. However, this tree will adapt to other situations that are less ideal. Northern Catalpa develops quickly, particularly while it is young, but its longevity is short (typically about 50
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Uses

Horticultural: Northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa (Warder) Warder ex Engelm.) is primarily used today as a large ornamental shade tree. It is widely planted in urban areas as a street and lawn tree. When flowering, it has abundant showy blossoms.

Conservation: Conservation uses include being planted in mined-land reclamation projects and shelterbelts.

European settlers planted it to produce fence posts. The wood is lightweight, and the heartwood is resistant to deterioration when placed in the ground for several years. Railroad companies grew plantations of it for use as track ties and fuel wood. It was also used for making packing materials. Carpenters commonly used it for interior trim in houses. Craftsmen used it to make furniture. It has also been used as telephone or power line poles.

Ethnobotany: In some of the older medical journals (19th century) there were speculations that catalpa gave off poisonous emanations. However, there is no scientific evidence to prove those speculations.

Pioneer doctors used the seed pods and seeds to make a decoction for chronic bronchial affections, spasmodic asthma, labored breathing and heart problems. The juice from either the leaves or roots was used to treat swelling of an eye or cutaneous affections. Green leaves were crushed and placed on swollen lymph glands. The bark was dried then ground to a powder and taken, or brewed in a tea and taken for swollen lymph glands.

Modern pharmaceutical research has shown catalpa trees have diuretic properties.

It is sometimes planted to attract the green catalpa worms, which are prized fish bait. These caterpillars can be frozen and used as bait at a later time.

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Wikipedia

Catalpa speciosa

Catalpa speciosa, commonly known as the northern catalpa, hardy catalpa, western catalpa, cigar tree, and catawba-tree, is a species of Catalpa native to the midwestern United States.

It is a medium-sized, deciduous tree growing to 15–30 meters tall and 12 meters wide. It has a trunk up to 1 m diameter, with brown to gray bark maturing into hard plates or ridges. The leaves are deciduous, opposite (or whorled), large, heart shaped, 20–30 cm long and 15–20 cm broad, pointed at the tip and softly hairy beneath. The flowers are 3–6 cm across, trumpet shaped, white with yellow stripes and purple spots inside; they grow in panicles of 10-30. The catalpa tree is the last tree to grow leaves in the spring. The leaves generally do not color in autumn before falling, instead, they either fall abruptly after the first hard freeze, or turn a slightly yellow-brown before dropping off. The winter twigs of northern catalpa are like those of few other trees, having sunken leaf scars that resemble suction cups. Their whorled arrangement (three scars per node) around the twigs is another diagnostic.

The fruit is a long, thin legume-like pod, 20–40 cm long and 10–12 mm diameter; it often stays attached to tree during winter (and can be mistaken for brown icicles). The pod contains numerous flat, light brown seeds with two papery wings.

It is closely related to southern catalpa, and can be distinguished by the flowering panicles, which bear a smaller number of larger flowers, and the slightly broader seed pods.

Distribution[edit]

Catalpa speciosa was originally thought to be native only to a small area of the midwestern United States near the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. However in 1976, investigation of an archeological site of an island in West Virginia's portion of the Ohio River revealed Catalpa speciosa to be present on the island around the time period of 1500-1700 AD. This suggests that Catalpa speciosa may have experienced a decline in range before European settlement. Today, its range has widely expanded east of the Rocky Mountains outside of its restricted pre-settlement location, further obscuring the true native range.[1]

Cultivation and uses[edit]

It is widely planted as an ornamental tree. It is adapted to moist, high pH soil and full sun, but has been able to grow almost anywhere in North America.

The wood is soft, like white pine, and light, weighing only 26 pounds per cubic foot when dry. It also does not rot easily; in earlier years it was used for fence posts and less than successfully as railroad ties. More modern uses that highlight the wood's beautiful grain include furniture, interior trim and cabinetry. Catalpa has one of the lowest shrinkage/expansion rates of any U.S. hardwood. Only northern white cedar and redwood have lower shrinkage/expansion rates, and not by much. The wood's unique properties make it excellent for carving and boatbuilding. Often regarded as a weed tree, its wood is underappreciated and underused. The tree's tendency to grow crooked does not help its reputation as a source of usable lumber.

Northern catalpa has been extensively cultivated in Ohio for over 200 years, and is now naturalized in urban and rural areas. Farmers introduced the rapidly growing northern catalpa to Ohio to produce large amounts of timber for fenceposts.

Three liabilities exist in urban areas where it is found as both a shade and an ornamental tree. Northern catalpa rains down fragments of its long fruits and fringed seeds from winter through spring, creating a cleanup chore. In addition, it often gets far too big for its allocated space in the landscape, and crowds out or casts too much shade on other desirable plants. Finally, its brittle wood, coupled with tree height, makes its branches at times subject to wind or ice damage.

Diseases[edit]

Although northern catalpa can have several diseases and pests, most are usually minor and pose no serious threat. The exception is the caterpillar of Ceratomia catalpae, which can on occasion defoliate the tree.

Gallery[edit]

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Notes

Comments

Sparingly introduced. Does well in a cooler climate. Parker (l.c.) reports its cultivation in Changa Manga (Lahore Dist.).
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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: Native range not well determined, in central U.S., now widely naturalized in northern and eastern USA as well. According to Weakley (1996), the native range was apparently from southern Indiana and southern Illinois, south to southern Tennessee and eastern Arkansas.

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