Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Northern Catalpa

Northern catalpa or Indian cigar tree (Catalpa speciosa) has enormous presence in any landscape setting. Finding a 70 - 80 foot tree with a massive trunk and thick sinuous limbs is not uncommon from Ohio south thru Tennessee. In summer its huge heart –shaped, pale green leaves may be easily reach 8 - 12 inches long and wide. Birds often seek shelter under the foliage canopy.

Catalpa offers a spectacular flower display lasting two weeks or more in May. The tree is common along roadsides, particularly in bottomlands, often growing in poor soil. Numerous two- inch long white flowers are borne on large terminal spikes, many unfortunately hidden beneath the enormous catalpa leaves. Each flower has small gold spots within its frilly edged corolla. Narrow cylindrical cigar fruits, 8 - 15 inches in length are easily visible in the fall and winter months.

Catalpa trees are often visited by the catalpa sphinx moth whose larvae (caterpillars) are prized by fishermen for bait. Hummingbirds are a major pollinator, attracted to the floral nectar.

This fast growing tree finds only limited value in a residential neighborhood due to its coarse leaf texture. The brittleness of small limbs demands almost constant clean-up.

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