Catalpa bignonioides

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 Catalpa bignonioides subsp. var.  Indian Bean Tree, Southern Catalpa
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Habit: tree
Height: to
Width: to
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Height: 15 m to 18 m
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Lifespan: perennial
Exposure: sun
Water: moist
Features: flowers
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USDA Zones: to
Sunset Zones:
Flower features:
Bignoniaceae > Catalpa bignonioides var. ,

Catalpa bignonioides is a species of Catalpa that is native to the southeastern United States in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Common names include Southern Catalpa and Indian Bean Tree.

It is widely grown as an ornamental tree. The Catalpa has the distinction of bearing some of the showiest flowers of all the American native trees. Its value in this respect has long been recognized and it holds an assured place in the parks and gardens of all temperate countries.[1]

It is a medium-sized deciduous tree growing to 15-18 meters tall, with a trunk up to 1 m diameter with brown to gray bark, maturing into hard plates or ridges. The short thick trunk supports long and straggling branches which form a broad and irregular head. The roots are fibrous and branches are brittle. Its juices are watery and bitter.[1]

The leaves are large and heart shaped, being 20-30 cm long and 15-20 cm broad. The bright green leaves appear late and as they are full grown before the flower clusters open, add much to the beauty of the blossoming tree. They secrete nectar, a most unusual characteristic for leaves, by means of groups of tiny glands in the axils of the primary veins.[1]

Catalpa bignonioides cv. Aurea

The flowers are 2.5-4 cm across, trumpet shaped, white with yellow spots inside; they grow in panicles of 20-40. In the northern states it is a late bloomer, putting forth great panicles of white flowers the last of June or early in July when the flowers of other trees have mostly faded. These cover the tree so thickly as almost to conceal the full grown leaves. The general effect of the flower cluster is a pure white, but the individual corolla is spotted with purple and gold, and some of these spots are arranged in lines along a ridge, so as to lead directly to the honey sweets within. A single flower when fully expanded is two inches long and an inch and a half wide. It is two-lipped and the lips are lobed, two lobes above and three below, as is not uncommon with such corollas. The flower is perfect, possessing both stamens and pistils; nevertheless, the law of elimination is at work and of the five stamens that we should expect to find, three have aborted, ceased to bear anthers and have become filaments simply. Then, too, the flowers refuse to be self-fertilized. Each flower has its own stamens and its own stigma but the lobes of the stigma remain closed until after the anthers have opened and discharged their pollen; after they have withered and become effete then the stigma opens and invites the wandering bee. The entire Pink family behave in this way.[1]

The fruit is a long, thin bean like pod 20-40 cm long and 8-10 mm diameter; it often stays attached to tree during winter. The pod contains numerous flat light brown seeds with two papery wings.

It is closely related to the Northern Catalpa (C. speciosa), and can be distinguished by the flowering panicles, which bear a larger number of smaller flowers, and the slightly slenderer seed pods.

  • Bark: Light brown tinged with red. Branchlets forking regularly by pairs, at first green, shaded with purple and slightly hairy, later gray or yellowish brown, finally reddish brown. Contains tannin.
  • Wood: Light brown, sapwood nearly white; light, soft, coarse-grained and durable in contact with the soil.
  • Winter buds: No terminal bud, uppermost bud is axillary. Minute, globular, deep in the bark. Outer scales fall when spring growth begins, inner scales enlarge with the growing shoot, become green, hairy and sometimes two inches long.
  • Leaves: Opposite, or in threes, simple, six to ten inches long, four to five broad. Broadly ovate, cordate at base, entire, sometimes wavy, acute or acuminate. Feather-veined, midrib and primary veins prominent. Clusters of dark glands, which secrete nectar are found in the axils of the primary veins. They come out of the bud involute, purplish, when full grown are bright green, smooth above, pale green, and downy beneath. When bruised they give a disagreeable odor. They turn dark and fall after the first severe frost. Petioles stout, terete, long.
  • Flowers: June, July. Perfect, white, borne in many-flowered thyrsoid panicles, eight to ten inches long. Pedicels slender, downy.
  • Calyx: Globular and poitned in the bud; finally splitting into two, broadly ovate, entire lobes, green or light purple.
  • Corolla: Campanulate, tube swollen, slightly oblique, two-lipped, five-lobed, the two lobes above smaller than the three below, imbricate in bud; limb spreading, undulate, when fully expanded is an inch and a half wide and nearly two inches long, white, marked on the inner surface with two rows of yellow blotches and in the throat on the lower lobes with purple spots.
  • Stamens: Two, rarely four, inserted near the base of the corolla, introrse, slightly exserted; anthers oblong, two-celled, opening longitudinally; filaments flattened, thread-like. Sterile filaments three, inserted near base of corolla, often rudimentary.
  • Pistil: Ovary superior, two-celled; style long, thread-like, with a two-lipped stigma. Ovules numerous.
  • Fruit: Long slender capsule, nearly cylindrical, two-celled, partition at right angles to the valves. Six to twenty inches long, brown; hangs on the tree all winter, splitting before it falls. Seeds an inch long, one-fourth of an inch wide, silvery gray, winged on each side and ends of wings fringed.[1]

A decidious Tree growing to 15m by 12m at a medium

It is hardy to zone 5 and is frost tender. It is in flower from June to July, and the seeds ripen from October to December. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by

Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture

Catalpa bignonioides, Walt. (C. Catalpa, Karst. C. syringifolia, Sims). Catalpa. Indian Bean. Tree, 20-50 ft.: lvs. often whorled, cordate-ovate, abruptly acuminate, sometimes with 2 lateral lobes, pubescent beneath, 5-8 in. long, of unpleasant odor: panicles many-fld.; fls. about 2 in. diam., thickly spotted inside: pod 6-20 in. long,¼-1/3 in. thick. June, July. Southern states, north to Tenn., often naturalized elsewhere.—Usually low tree, with very wide-spreading branches. Not much used medicinally, but pods and seeds said to possess antispasmodic, cardiac, and sedative properties: bark anthelmintic, alterative. There are some garden forms. Var. aurea, Lav. Lvs. yellow. Var. nana, Bur. (C. Bungei, Hort., not C. A. Mey.). Forms a dense, round bush, often grafted high. CH

The above text is from the Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture. It may be out of date, but still contains valuable and interesting information which can be incorporated into the remainder of the article. Click on "Collapse" in the header to hide this text.


Prefers a good moist loamy soil and a sunny position that is not exposed[1, 11]. Tolerates heavy clay soils[200]. Very resistant to atmospheric pollution[188]. Plants become chlorotic on shallow alkaline soils[202]. Plants are hardy to about -15°c, probably more in continental climates[200], they grow best in areas with hot summers[188]. Protect plants from late frosts when they are young[200]. A very ornamental plant[1], it is fast-growing in the wild where it often flowers when only 6 - 8 years old[229]. The sweetly-scented flowers are borne in forked panicles at the end of branches[245]. There are some named varieties selected for their ornamental value[188, 200, 202]. The trees transplant easily[200]. The crushed foliage has an unpleasant smell[202]. Another report says that the leaves are attractively scented when bruised[245]. Plants in this genus are notably resistant to honey fungus[200].


It is easily raised from seeds which germinate early in the first season. It also multiplies readily from cuttings.

Seed - best sown outdoors, or in a cold frame, as soon as it is ripe[200]. Stratify stored seed for 3 weeks at 1°c and sow in spring[200]. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in a cold frame for at least their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Softwood cuttings, 10cm long, in a frame. They should be taken in late spring to early summer before the leaves are fully developed[200]. Root cuttings in winter[200].

Pests and diseases

The tree is fairly free from fungal diseases and has few insect enemies.[1]




  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Our Native Trees and How to Identify Them, Charles Scriber's Sons, 1900

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