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Southern Catalpa Catalpa bignonioides

 

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Southern Catalpa, flowering
credit: Le.Loup.Gris/CCSA

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Family: Bignoniaceae, Trumpet Creeper view all from this family



Description Native to the southeastern United States in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Common names include Southern Catalpa, Cigartree, and Indian Bean Tree. It is a medium-sized deciduous tree growing to 15-18 meters tall, with a trunk up to 1 m diameter with brown to gray bark, maturing into hard plates or ridges. The short thick trunk supports long and straggling branches which form a broad and irregular head. The roots are fibrous and branches are brittle. Its juices are watery and bitter.

The leaves are large and heart shaped, being 20-30 cm long and 15-20 cm broad. The bright green leaves appear late and as they are full grown before the flower clusters open, add much to the beauty of the blossoming tree. They secrete nectar, a most unusual characteristic for leaves, by means of groups of tiny glands in the axils of the primary veins.

The flowers are 2.5-4 cm across, trumpet shaped, white with yellow spots inside; they grow in panicles of 20-40. In the northern states of the USA, it is a late bloomer, putting forth great panicles of white flowers in June or early in July when the flowers of other trees have mostly faded. These cover the tree so thickly as almost to conceal the full grown leaves. The general effect of the flower cluster is a pure white, but the individual corolla is spotted with purple and gold, and some of these spots are arranged in lines along a ridge, so as to lead directly to the honey sweets within. A single flower when fully expanded is two inches long and an inch and a half wide. It is two-lipped and the lips are lobed, two lobes above and three below, as is not uncommon with such corollas.

The fruit is a long, thin bean like pod 20-40 cm long and 8-10 mm diameter; it often stays attached to tree during winter. The pod contains numerous flat light brown seeds with two papery wings.

It is closely related to the Northern Catalpa (C. speciosa), and can be distinguished by the flowering panicles, which bear a larger number of smaller flowers, and the slightly slenderer seed pods.


Habitat Cities, suburbs & towns, Fields.


Range Southeast, New England, Southwest, Mid-Atlantic, Texas, California, Great Lakes, Plains, Florida.


Comments Some landowners and designers consider this nearly indestructible tree a nuisance because the leaves smell bad when crushed, flowers litter the ground with decaying petals after a too-brief appearance, and root suckers can create a problem. A particular green & black striped caterpillar can completely defoliate southern catalpa trees, but the trees recover, growing new set of leaves withing a month.


Exposure Preference Partial sun.


Flower May - June


Native Distribution Gulf Coast from n. Florida to e. Mississippi; widely naturalized elsewhere


Site Preference Stream banks; wetlands; low woodlands


Soil Preference Wet to moist soils.


 

 

 

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