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A Floridata Plant Profile #25 Catalpa bignonioides
Common Names: southern catalpa, catawba, Indian bean tree
Family: Bignoniaceae (bignonia Family)
Wallpaper Gallery (3 images)

tree  Attracts Birds Fast Growing Drought Tolerant For Wet, Boggy Areas Has Ornamental (non-edible) Fruit Flowers

southern catalpa flowers
The southern catalpa tree bursts forth with big beautiful clusters of orchidlike little blossoms each spring. Click to download a large version (800x600).
The southern catalpa is an attractive small to medium sized deciduous tree that grows to about 25-50 ft (7.6-1.2 m) in height. It is of similar width with a short trunk that supports a broad, open and rounded crown. Catalpa has large tropical looking heart-shaped leaves that are up to 8 in (20.3 cm) long and held oppositely on the stems (often in a whorl with three leaves emerging from the same point along the stem). In spring the southern catalpa produces showy 6-10 in (cm) branching flower clusters (panicles) at the stem tips. The white bell-shaped blossoms are 2 in (5.1 cm) in diameter and patterned with small purple spots and two large orange markings at the throat. The flowers are followed by long slender cigar-shaped pods up to 16 in ( cm) in lengh. The green pods ripen to brown in fall and split to release flat fringed seeds.

couthern catalpa tree
A roadside southern catalpa tree guards a field near Tallahassee, Florida.
There is a form of southern catalpa that is often grown called 'Aurea' with sunshine bright yellow green leaves. There's a dwarf variety too called 'Nana' that remains less than 10 ft (3.1 m) in height and is great for small yards.

Catalpa bignonioides southern catalpa is native to the southern United States from Georgia to Florida and west to Mississippi where it inhabits wooded natural levees, banks and the flood plains of the larger rivers. It has become naturalized in areas where it has been planted north and east of its range.

Southern catalpa suffers from numerous pests and disease including branch "die back" from which trees always recover, even if untreated, by growing whole new stems from the root crown.
Light: Full sun to partial shade.
Moisture: Southern catalpa prefers moist, well drained soils but is adaptable.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 6-10.
Propagation: Seeds germinate easily. Dig and transplant seedlings from beneath established trees.

catalpa pod
The long beanlike pods remain on the tree through winter until they eventually split to release their flat seeds to the breezes (these are from last year).
Spectacular spring flowers and beautiful bright green foliage make the catalpa one of the South's most distinctive and best loved native trees. Used as an ornamental, accent, specimen (especially 'Aurea'), or shade tree. It is a valued ornamental tree with large foliage and showy clusters of flowers in the spring. When grown as a specimen many gardeners drastically cut back the large branches of their catalpas each winter. This radical surgery is called pollarding and the result is a tree with a thick trunk, very compact crown and very large beautiful foliage.

Catalpa also has some limited use in the forest products trade for fence posts, rails and crates.

catalpa caterpillars
These young catalpa worms (caterpillars) are now about 0.5 in (1.3 cm) long. Over the next week or so they'll grow to 2 in (5.1 cm) and will have stripped the tree bare. Within a week the tree will grow new leaves and ready for the next onslaught.
This tree has been widely planted and naturalized outside its native range because it is the host plant for a caterpillar commonly called the catawba worm. These are a popular fishing bait for southern freshwater fish known as bream.

All across the American Deep South the catalpa tree is seen, often stripped bare of it's leaves by hungry caterpillars. This means only one thing - it's time to go fishing! The foliage is quickly replaced in a few weeks and the cycle can be repeated several times in a season.

Jack Scheper 3/07/98; updated 6/26/04, 1/20/07

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