Northern Catalpa

May 3, 2018

Northern Catalpa
Content provided by Bailey Nurseries

There was a blog article on this subject nearly a decade ago that has always made the plant geek in us laugh – calling Catalpa’s the Rodney Dangerfield of shade trees since they get no respect! Whether you snicker at the analogy or roll your eyes, this is one tree that should get more attention in the landscape.

What’s not to love? Not only do you get interesting texture with the large (10-12″!) heart shaped leaves that emerge a Kermit-the-frog-green (it’s not easy to be this green and punny you know…) but you get GORGEOUS blooms! Unlike their stinky cousins (Catalpa bignonioides), these leaves don’t smell when crushed. Blooming in early June, the white flowers resemble orchids, with yellow and purple speckles on the interior. Each blossom is about 2″ wide, and clustered in large panicles of 10-30 that make quite the display.

After flowering, legume-like green seed pods form abundantly every 3-4 years, drying to a dark brown and can sometimes persisting through the winter. While it can be slow to branch, once formed they ascend in a gnarled and twisted manner that adds to its coarse habit when exposed in the winter. Developing a deep taproot, this fast growing tree can adapt to both moist soils as well as withstanding droughts and high pH. It is hardy from zone 4-7.

So why does it get so little respect? Common issues with placement are to blame. This tree gets large at 50-60′ tall and 30-40′ wide, and therefore needs the right spacing to keep from shading out unwanted areas. The seedpods do fall throughout the winter and into spring, which can be messy if placed near paved areas. Like other fast-growing trees, the branches can be brittle and break off when damaged by wind and ice. But those are all things that can and should be taken into consideration when choosing any tree!

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