Catalpa Tree Varieties: Learn About Different Kinds Of Catalpa Tree
By: Teo Spengler
Catalpatrees are tough natives offering creamy flowers in spring. The commoncatalpa tree varieties for home gardens in this country are hardy catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) and southern catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides), with some otherkinds of catalpa available. However, like all trees, catalpas have theirdownsides. Read on for information on catalpa trees, including an overview ofthe varieties of catalpa trees available.
Kinds of Catalpa Trees
People either love catalpa trees or they hate them. Thesetrees are tough and adaptable, so much so that they have been labeled “weedtrees.” It doesn’t help that the tree is messy, dropping its large leaves,flower petals and cigar-shaped seed pods as they fade.
Still, the catalpa is a resilient, drought tolerant andattractive tree, used by indigenous people for medicinal purposes. It growsfast, putting down an extensive root system, and can be used to stabilize soilthat may be subject to landslides or erosion.
Hardy catalpa is found in the wild in the northeastern andsouthwest regions of the United States. It grows quite large, to 70 feet (21 m.)tall in the wild, with an open spread of some 40 feet (12 m.). Southern catalpagrows in Florida, Louisiana and other southeastern states. This is the smallerof the two common varieties of catalpa trees. Both have white blossoms andinteresting seed pods.
While these native trees are the types of catalpa most oftenseen in residential landscapes in the country, those seeking a tree can alsochoose among other catalpa tree varieties.
Other Catalpa Tree Varieties
One of the other types of catalpa is Chinese catalpa (Catalpa ovata), native to Asia. Itoffers very ornamental cream-colored flowers in spring, followed by the classicbean-like seed pods. This is among the more tolerant types of catalpa,accepting a range of soil conditions, from wet to dry. It does require full sunbut is hardy to U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zone 4.
Other species native to China include the Cataola Farges catalpa(Catalpa fargesii). It has pretty,unusual speckled flowers.
You will find some catalpa cultivars and hybrids available.Catalpa cultivars of the southern variety include ‘Aurea,’ which offers brightyellow leaves that turn green when it gets hot. Or pick a rounded dwarf, ‘Nana.’
Catalpa x erubescensis the classification for hybrids between Chinese and southern catalpa. One tolook for is ‘Purpurescens,’ with spring leaves of rich burgundy. They also fadeto green with the summer heat.
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A Bait Tree? All About the Catalpa Tree and Its Worms
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Catalpa trees, with two species native to the United States, are known for their beautiful and plentiful blooms, as well as for being the sole source of food for catalpa worms — a caterpillar that strips the tree of its foliage and eventually becomes the catalpa sphinx moth.
Though catalpa worms can completely defoliate a catalpa tree over the course of one summer, healthy trees typically recover the following year, and natural predators keep the worms from doing too much damage in the long term.
Because the worms are also native, they have ample natural predators, including various wasp and fly parasitoids. Worms from the catalpa tree have long been valued as fish bait, and some fishermen plant the trees just for this purpose. When fully grown, they’re around 2.5-3 inches long, and somewhat variable in color, though primarily either dark or pale with a black stripe or dots down the middle of the back.
American Linden/American Basswood (Tilia americana)
The American linden or American Basswood tree grows one to two feet per year and can grow as large as 60 to 80 feet tall with a 30 to 60 foot wingspan. Native to Illinois, the American Linden is a shade tree with heart-shaped leaves. In June, it produces sweet-smelling flowers. Birds are attracted to Basswoods because of they like to forage its seeds and enjoy building shelters in lindens because of their massive size, and convenient food source. For more information, you can read the North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox profile.
With the arrival of June comes warm weather and fun flowers. One of my favorite plants that blooms in the month of June is the Catalpa tree. This large flowering tree works in any landscape.
Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) is a large deciduous tree that grows 50 to 80 feet tall. The tree has large, tropical, heart-shaped leaves that are deep green in color and 6 to12 inches long. The flowers are large and showy in May-June. They are white, orchid-like flowers that are in large bundles, called panicles. The seeds of Catalpa trees are borne in long bean pods that grow from 8 to20 inches long. The seeds are deep green and turn brown in the fall. These bean pods are very prominent for this tree, as it is sometimes referred to as the Indian bean tree, according to the USDA-NRCS.
Catalpa trees are useful as a great shade tree, due to their size. The biggest problem that most people have with this tree is the mess they make when the bean pods are shed, but on an acreage that wouldn't cause much of a problem. The tree is very adaptable and can be planted in most soil types, hot locations, wet areas, and even part shade. They grow fairly fast, so they become great shade trees in a shorter period of time than some other trees. When planting a Catalpa tree, ensure that there is ample space for this large tree to grow without crowding buildings or other plants.
Catalpa trees are great for apiaries as the flowers are good for honey production. According to the USDA-NRCS, pioneers used the seed pods of Catalpa trees to make medicines for bronchial infections and asthma. They used juice from leaves or roots for treating swollen eyes, crushed the leaves for swollen lymph glands, and used dried ground bark for swollen lymph glands. The USDA-NRCS also says that Catalpa trees are useful as a diuretic current medical authorities agree.
Catalpa trees are a beautiful addition to any landscape for flowers in May and June of the year. It is a great specimen tree for any acreage or urban landscape setting - just make sure there is enough room for the full-grown tree. This tree has great interest even when it is not flowering as the leaves look like they are from a tropical plant and the unique bean pods stay on the tree into the winter months. Catalpas are easy to grow and can help pollinators with their pollen production. Consider a Catalpa for a fun and interesting tree that you will love for years to come.
The catalpa tree known as Shawnee wood (Catalpa speciosa) is sometimes known as northern catalpa, and it is native to a U.S. region that includes Tennessee, Illinois and Indiana. It is slightly more hardy than the Indian bean tree, and it grows in USDA zones 4 to 8. Shawnee wood is known for being much more ornamental than the Indian bean tree, given Shawnee wood's symmetrical, rounded form, greater height and showier flowers. But this catalpa's value is limited to its ornamental qualities and usefulness for fencing and utility poles. It has no tradition as an edible or medicinal plant.