The Southern catalpa, also known as Catalpa bignonioides, and the Northern catalpa, also known as Catalpa speciosa, are both endemic to the United States. According to research conducted by the University of Arkansas Extension, these two populations were formerly part of the same species but became distinct during the most recent major ice age. Both species now have qualities that are unique to them while also maintaining commonalities despite the fact that they are no longer defined solely by location. The hardiness zones 5 through 9 of the United States Department of Agriculture are optimal for the growth of the Southern catalpa, whereas the hardiness zones 4 through 8 are optimal for the growth of the Northern catalpa. Both of these animals may live for a very long time: Monumental Trees claims that a Northern Catalpa that is 150 years old is the world’s oldest living specimen of the species. Around seventy years is the average lifespan of a Southern Catalpa tree.
Southern Catalpa Tree Facts
This species of catalpa, which is sometimes referred to as a “cigar tree” because of the long, cigar-shaped pods it produces, is classified as a Southern variety; yet, it has been found as far north as Connecticut and maybe even farther. In the 1720s, the Southern catalpa tree was given its formal listing in the trade of plants; nowadays, it may be found growing everywhere that it is sown. Emerging during the months of May and June, the white flower clusters take on the appearance of a pyramid and may reach a length of 11 inches. They are marked with streaks of purple and yellow and emit a light aroma.
The Southern catalpa’s leaves are heart-shaped and large, with a lighter green on the underside. There is a clear prominence of veins, and their lengths vary from 6 to 12 inches, with the stem being a similar distance in length. The corners are rounded off, and the points may either be pointy or rounded. They become a brilliant yellow just before they drop off in the autumn. While a Southern catalpa leaf is pierced while it is laying on the ground, it gives out an unpleasant stench. This should serve as a warning when mowing the lawn without first raking the leaves.
Identifying the Southern Catalpa
The distinctive identifiers of the Southern catalpa are the markings that are left on a branch when a leaf comes off in the autumn. The three circular footprints, also known as leaf scars, that were left behind are a brownish-grey colour and make identifying the species quite simple. The tree’s seedpods develop between the leaves and the blossoms. These seed casings are about 12 inches long and resemble cigars. Inside each one are hundreds of flat seeds, and they develop in the fall.
The seedpods are green in the spring and change a brownish colour in the autumn. The seeds of the plant are discharged when the fruit dries up and breaks. Even though the Southern catalpa tree doesn’t produce blossoms until it’s at least seven years old, the seedpods don’t get fully developed until it’s ten years old. If this is the first time that anything like this has happened, you should know that the age of your tree is somewhere between two and three years old since new seedpods are generated every two to three years.
Pros/Cons of Catalpa Trees
The root system of the catalpa tree is one that is both vast and invasive. It is very important to choose the appropriate location in which to plant the catalpa seeds or bare-root specimen, and this is important not only for the tree, but also for the stability of the slope behind your house, the foundation of your pool, and the underpinning of your pool. Planting the tree at least 50 feet away from a building is recommended since its powerful roots will grow and offer a robust foundation in soil that has been eroded; however, these roots will also interfere with sidewalks as they grow.
On the other hand, after the catalpa has ended its blooming cycle and the leaves have turned from yellow to brown, they fall to the ground in large numbers along with the seedpods. This might be considered a negative aspect of the plant. If there is a strong breeze, the seeds will be dispersed, and you may see freshly budding trees on the lawns of neighbouring properties. Because it is one of the messiest types of trees, you will need a rake with a heavy-duty head to remove the leaves, blossoms, and worms that fall off it everyday.
Harvesting Catalpa Tree Worms
The fishing business has benefited greatly from caterpillars, sometimes known as catalpa tree worms. In regions where fishing and catalpa trees go hand in hand, there is an abundance of roadside booths where children sell the worms for pocket money. The harvesting and freezing of these worms is a source of revenue for both experts and amateurs alike. Some folks are so resourceful that they would place buckets below the leaves so that they may collect the worms as they fall.
The caterpillars, which are the larvae of the sphinx moth, consume only the leaves of the Northern and Southern catalpa trees. Defoliation of the plant will often occur when the infestation is severe enough. If this happens at an appropriate time throughout the season, a second wave of leaves will emerge. Damage might be done to a tree that was already in poor health, necessitating its removal if it was affected. According to a paper on the worm/moth written by Penn State Extension, worms that are not gathered for use as fishing bait spend the winter close to the trunk of the tree and emerge as sphinx moths between the months of April and October.
Identifying the Northern Catalpa Tree
Its close relative, the Southern species of catalpa tree, is also a deciduous tree, and the Northern catalpa tree is often planted in areas that need land reclamation. Because the wood does not decay easily, the first settlers used it for railway ties and fence posts. Nowadays, carpenters and artisans utilise it for making furniture and cabinets for the inside of homes. It is preferable for the telephone providers to erect the poles so that they may hang telephone wires. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that your tree should be 20 years old if it is 20 feet tall. The number of rings found in the trunk of a fallen catalpa tree may be used to estimate its age. According to Monumental Trees, it may be difficult to distinguish between the inner rings since they are so closely spaced. Additionally, the breadth of the trunk is a good measure of the tree’s age.
It is difficult to tell between the Northern and Southern catalpas unless you are able to see them side by side. However, the Northern catalpa grows to a greater height than the Southern kind. The leaves are shorter and can reach a maximum length of 12 inches. The seedpods are the most telling feature. It is similar in appearance to a long, lean French green bean, and the seedpod of the Northern may grow to be as long as two feet in length. The seeds themselves measure one inch in length and have fringes at both ends of their length.
Medicinal Benefits of Catalpa
Poultices made of catalpa leaves are used to wounds caused by snake bites. Native Americans have long held the belief that this plant had a wide range of potential medical uses. They believed that the plant’s heart-shaped leaves may treat conditions related to the cardiovascular system. It was stated in medical publications published in the early 19th century that the leaves of the catalpa were deadly. However, it is the roots of the plant that are very dangerous and should not be consumed. Early pioneers in the field of medicine discovered that the seeds and seedpods obtained from the Southern catalpa provided relief from the stress caused by asthma, bronchial infections, and cardiac conditions. Tea was made by grinding the bark of the catalpa tree or crushing the leaves of the catalpa tree, both of which were used to treat lymph gland enlargement. In addition, it is possible to utilise it as an alternative to quinine for treating patients with malaria.
These pioneer views form the basis of contemporary medicine, and medical research has shown that catalpa contains qualities that are similar to those of drugs that are used to treat urinary retention. Catalpa was also used as a sedative and for the purpose of expelling intestinal worms. To aid in the treatment of conjunctivitis, the pods are combined with distilled water and other eye care ingredients. This mixture is then applied to the affected eye(s).