Catalpa Tree
Catalpa speciosa

Catalpa Tree in front of French House on Nazareth Campus Description: The catalpa trees grow to about 100-120ft and 3 ft in diameter. It has a rounded crown of spreading branches and large heart shaped
leaves. The leaves grow in pairs of threes which are whorled and opposite at a node. They are 6-12" long and 4-8" wide. They are characterized by a dull green above, and a paler green and fuzzy underside. It has brownish-gray scaly bark. The flowers are 2-21/4" long with a bell-shaped corolla of 5 unequal rounded, fringed lobes. They are white with two orange stripes and purple spots and lines inside (see below). These can be seen in late spring. The fruit, which is also shown below is 8-18" in length, cylindrical and very narrow. The fruit is green, turning to a dark brown when they mature in autumn. The fruit contains many
flat light brown seeds with two papery wings. 4


 Nazareth College campus in front of the French House, just to the right of the front door and down the hill a bit. 

Native Habitat

The Catalpa tree is native to the rich bottomlands of the central Mississippi River basin and has been widely planted in the eastern United States.3 It is found mostly in moist valley soils b streams, and naturalized in open areas such as roadsides and clearings.4

Optimal Growing ConditionsCatalpa Leaf size as compared to a student

The Catalpa grows best in sun and partial shade. It is very tolerant of different soil types but it prefers deep, moist, fertile soil. It can withstand wet or dry alkaline coinditions and extremely hot, dry environments.5

Economic Importance

Catalpa wood is very soft, weak and brittle, with a very good decap resistance and dimensional stability. It is excellent for working with hand tools and is almost on par with white pine. The wood is mainly used for fenceposts, rails, beams, and crating. Other uses of the wood include millwork, framing, forms, furniture, drawer sides, and general purpose construction.6

Catalpa is also used in landscaping for its winter characteristics, lawn trees, park trees, and for its flowering effect.7

The Catalpa tree is also home to Catalpa Sphinx, which is a common hawk or sphinx moth. The caterpillars are commonly called catalpa worms or "catawba" worms and they feed on the leaves on the catalpa, and can strip the trees of foliage. Although the catalpa worm is a tree pest, it is known for its attractiveness to fish. These caterpillars have been valued for fish bait. References to their collection by fishermen date back to the 1870's.8

Ethnobotanical and Cultural Information

The genus name, Catalpa is the Cherokee, American Indian name for wood. The species name speciosa is given for its large, showy flowers. The catalpa tree is also known as Indian-bean, Indian-cigar, Smoking-bean, and Cigar-tree, since the large fruits resemble cigars.

The closely related Southern Catalpa, Catalpa bignonioides, has some medicinal uses. The seeds contain a bitter glycoside catalpin, which is reported to be used for asthmatic, cardiac and antispasmodic purposes. Large doses of the seed are said to produce a weak pulse and nausea. Some people develop a skin allergy when handling the flowers. Northern Catalpa has no known medicinal uses, and is mainly used for ornamental purposes.9

Fascinating FactsCatalpa Leaf size as compared to human hand

Catalpa grows rapidly, but it is often infested with insects and damaged by storms and frost. 10

Other Interesting Sites

Here are some other sites with great pictures of the trees. (1/8/02)

Miscelaneous_Stuff_about_Catalpa_Trees (1/8/02)


1. Miscellaneous Stuff About Catalpa Trees. (1/8/02)

2. (1/8/02)

3. Ohio Department of Natural Resources. "Ohio Trees" (1/7/02)

4. Little E.L. 1995. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
      Pages 664-665.

5. (1/7/02)

6. WoodBin 2001. Northern Catalpa. (1/8/02)

7. (1/8/02)

8. Hyche L.L. Department of Entomology, Auburn University: The Catalpa Sphinx. (1/8/02)

9. Vines R.A., 1969. Trees, Shrubs and Woody Vines of The Southwest. Austin: University of Texas Press. Pages 926-7.

10. Northern Catalpa. (1/8/02)

Created by: Kristi Maroni and Sarah Domville


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  Dr. Beverly Brown  

  Nazareth College of Rochester        

  Page last edited: 12/04/2003