Catalpa trees are flowering plants from the Bignoniaceae family, with only eleven species worldwide and the largest Catalpa standing in Michigan. These Indian Bean trees or Cigar trees, as they are more commonly known, are native to the warmer climates of North America, the Caribbean, and East Asia with Northern Catalpa Trees displaying larger leaves than Southern Catalpa Trees as they are a slightly different species.
The name Catalpa derives from the Native American name Catawba, with the spelling Catalpa coming from a transcription error made by a describing botanist. The name of this tree is pronounced Catalpa in North America, but often still Catawba in the South.
This tree is the only source of food for the Catalpa sphinx moth that eats the leaves in large quantities. When there are a large number of these caterpillars, the trees can sometimes be left completely defoliated. Fishermen also use these caterpillars as fish bait, and so often plant these trees to increase their supply of bait.
This deciduous tree grows fast and fairly straight, displaying large, bell-shaped, white flowers in spring against a rot-resistant, light-weight bark. These striking flowers are followed by long-bean like pods that contrast beautifully against the bright yellow-green foliage that adopts a more golden hue in autumn. Catalpa is a great ornamental tree for exciting spring and summer interest suited to most soil types. For more help or planting advice, click here.