Catalpa Trees in Bloom

Those trees covered with white flowers we have been seeing are Catalpa trees.  To me, a well-formed, fully grown Catalpa is an impressive sight.

A mature Catalpa tree blooming in rural Monroe County.


Catalpas have other positive attributes other than their flowers.  They grow fast compared to many other trees and can reach a height of 50 feet.   Catalpas tolerate the stressful growing conditions of a city environment, which is why so many were planted in urban areas.

In years past, farmers planted Catalpas to use for fence posts because the wood is resistant to rotting when in contact with the soil.  Nowadays, like everyone else, farmers buy their fence posts.

After flowering, long, slim cigar-shaped seedpods will form where the flowers once were giving the tree its nickname “Cigar Tree”.  These pods hang on all winter.

Not everyone likes Catalpa trees.  The branches are brittle and can break off during storms.   Some people feel its shape and large leaves give it a coarse, unrefined look.  I have to agree that a Catalpa struggling to survive in a difficult spot can look pretty ragged.   In addition, the flowers and seedpods make a mess in the yard after they fall off

Catalpa worms, the caterpillar stage of a sphinx moth, are sometimes found eating catalpa leaves.   Anglers use these worms for fish bait; fish love catalpa worms.

I remember when I was a youngster some Umbrella trees in my Grandmother’s garden.  There was a row of them, about eight feet high with a tuft of leaves growing out of the top.  Those trees were catalpas grafted with a bud from a dwarf form of the tree.   Every spring she would cut back the last season’s growth forcing the tree to form a new umbrella.   It made quite an impression on me.  The Umbrella tree form is still available at nurseries.

Catalpas are such a versatile tree, no wonder they have been so popular for so long.







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