Southern Catalpa is a powerful bloomer with a unique contorted form. It is smaller than its northern cousin with the same large heart shaped leaves. Winter reveals its arching, twisted branches. A tree of great character. Southern Catalpa is hardy in zones 5 to 9.
The Catalpa Tree consists of many species around the world, two are native to the US. In the mid-west we have the Northern Catalpa, Catalpa speciosa, and in the south we have The Southern Catalpa, Catalpa bignoides.
Both Catalpas are known by various local names such as, Catawba, Indian Cigar Tree, Cigar Tree, Caterpillar Tree, Fishbait Tree, and Fishermans Tree. Catalpa is the Native American name for the trees.
The two trees are very similar in appearance. The flowers are the distinguishing difference. Both trees produce large clusters of flowers in early summer. The interior of the flowers tell the tale. The Northern Catalpa flowers are decorated with lines of lavender dots surrounding bright yellow streaks leading into the throat of the flower.
The Southern Catalpa flowers are filled with an organized splash of magenta streaks and spots surrounding golden orange lines of spots directing pollinators into the throat of the flower.
These Magnificent flowers cover the trees for about two weeks each year. The Southern Catalpa blooms first beginning the first two weeks in June. Followed by the Northern Catalpa which blooms the last two weeks in June.
Both catalpas are large trees, 30′ to 70’tall with some reaching 100′ . The trees are rather coarse in structure with thick twigs and a distinctive, sometimes contorted shape. The large frame is clothed with equally large leaves, some a foot long and broad. The large leaves cast a deep shade.
As summer progresses, the flowers give way to long bean like pods which turn from green to a rich dark brown in fall somewhat resembling a long cigar.