Curator’s Plant of the Month – August 2017

Catalpa bignonioides at Thorp Perrow


Catalpa or Indian Bean Tree is a genus of flowering plants native to warm temperate and subtropical regions of North America, the Caribbean, and East Asia. Mostly deciduous trees, they typically grow to 12–18 metres tall and 6–12 metres wide. A 10-year-old sapling stands about 6 metres tall. They can be recognised by their large heart-shaped to three-lobed leaves and showy white or yellow flowers in the summer. In Autumn, they bear long fruits that resemble a slender bean pod full of small flat seeds, each with two thin wings to aid in wind dispersal. The bean-like seed pod is the origin of the alternative vernacular names Indian bean tree and cigar tree.

Catalpa at Thorp Perrow

Due to their large leaf size, catalpas are a popular habitat for many birds, providing them good shelter from rain and wind. These trees have few limb droppage, but drop large dark-brown bean pods during late summer. The wood of catalpas is quite soft.[1]
Catalpas begin flowering after roughly 3 years, and produce seed pods after approximately 5 years.

The tree is the sole source of food for the catalpa sphinx moth (Ceratomia catalpae), the leaves being eaten by the caterpillars. When caterpillars are numerous, infested trees may be completely defoliated. Defoliated catalpas produce new leaves readily, but with multiple generations occurring, new foliage may be consumed by subsequent broods. Severe defoliation over several consecutive years can cause death of trees. Because the caterpillars are an excellent live bait for fishing, some dedicated anglers plant catalpa mini-orchards for their own private source of “catawba-worms”, particularly in the southern states.



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