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Southern Catalpa Catalpa bignonioides

Other Common Name(s):

Phonetic Spelling
kah-TAL-pah big-non-ee-OY-deez
Description

The Southern Catalpa is a medium sized, flowering deciduous tree with a short, thick trunk and a broadly rounded irregular crown. It is a relatively easily grown shade tree that prefers moderate soils, but is tolerant of clay and wet or dry conditions including seasonal flooding. In nature, it is most often found in rich moist soils by the sides of streams and rivers and it has a reputation for escaping cultivation. It prefers being grown in full sun to part shade and will not grow in full shade. This tree has an irregular shape as it matures and blooms with white flowers that are about an inch and a half in width in early summer. It is a very long-lived tree and after this initial flowering, seed pods are produced which droop from the branches in a unique, string-like display. The genus name comes from the North American Indian name for the tree while the species name means resembling the genus Bignonia.

This tree has an extensive root system and is sometimes grown to stabilize soil. Some negative aspects of this tree are that the irregular shape may not fit with the landscape, seemingly having randomly spreading and crooked branches which can be off-putting. In addition, while the flowers have a pleasant fragrance, the foliage is unpleasantly fragrant when crushed. Note that this tree also flowers later than C. speciosa and retains more of a purple color.

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems:

No serious problems.  Catalpa sphinx moth caterpillars can do significant damage.  Mildew, twig blight, verticillium wilt, and leaf spots are occasional problems.  Leaves can become damaged and look ratty from wind or hail.

See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Aurea'
  • 'Nana'
  • 'Variegata'
  • var. purpurea
'Aurea', 'Nana', 'Variegata', var. purpurea
Tags:
#showy flowers#deciduous#shade tree#native tree#flowering tree#long lifespan#deciduous tree#messy fruits#malodorous
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Aurea'
  • 'Nana'
  • 'Variegata'
  • var. purpurea
'Aurea', 'Nana', 'Variegata', var. purpurea
Tags:
#showy flowers#deciduous#shade tree#native tree#flowering tree#long lifespan#deciduous tree#messy fruits#malodorous
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Catalpa
    Species:
    bignonioides
    Family:
    Bignoniaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    Used for posts and fencing rails, and interior finishes and cabinet work.
    Life Cycle:
    Perennial
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Root Cutting
    Seed
    Stem Cutting
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Southeastern North America
    Distribution:
    East Texas to South Georgia, including Florida, Missouri, Alabama, and Louisiana. Introduced into Central Europe and Spain.
    Wildlife Value:
    Attracts bees.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 30 ft. 0 in. - 60 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 20 ft. 0 in. - 40 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Native Plant
    Tree
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Broad
    Irregular
    Oval
    Rounded
    Growth Rate:
    Rapid
    Maintenance:
    Medium
    Texture:
    Coarse
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Alkaline (>8.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Available Space To Plant:
    24-60 feet
    NC Region:
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    5a, 5b, 6b, 6a, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9b, 9a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Winter
    Fruit Type:
    Capsule
    Fruit Length:
    > 3 inches
    Fruit Width:
    1-3 inches
    Fruit Description:
    After flowering, seeds appear in long narrow pods (to 15 inches long). Pods mature to dark brown in fall and then split open lengthwise to release the seeds. Seed pods give rise to the common name of cigar tree. Seeds ripen from October to December.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Purple/Lavender
    White
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Panicle
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Fragrant
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Summer
    Flower Shape:
    Bell
    Flower Size:
    1-3 inches
    Flower Description:
    Flowers in early to late summer, but later than C. speciosa and has more purple color, 6 to 12 inch panicle of white, bell-shaped flowers with two rows and ridges of yellow spots and numerous purple spots in early summer. Individual flowers are 1.5 inches across and very ornamental.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Leaf Feel:
    Smooth
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Opposite
    Whorled
    Leaf Shape:
    Ovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Entire
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    > 6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    > 6 inches
    Leaf Description:
    Large, heartshaped slightly pubecent, 10 inches long and 6 inches wide whorled or opposite, simple leaf; has an unpleasant odor when crushed; no significant fall color.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Dark Gray
    Surface/Attachment:
    Fissured
  • Stem:
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Form:
    Zig Zags
    Stem Description:
    crooked branches
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Woodland
    Landscape Theme:
    Rain Garden
    Design Feature:
    Shade Tree
    Specimen
    Street Tree
    Attracts:
    Bees
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Black Walnut
    Deer
    Drought
    Pollution
    Poor Soil