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Catalpa

Bignoniaceae
Deciduous, Trees

Huge, heart-shaped leaves and large, upright clusters of trumpet-shaped, 2-in.-wide flowers give these trees a distinctly tropical look. White blooms marked with yellow and soft brown appear in late spring and summer, and are followed by long, bean-shaped seed capsules sometimes called Indian beans.

Takes a wide range of soils and temperatures, but plant where strong winds won’t shred leaves. Dropped flowers and seed capsules can be messy. Shape young plants, shortening side branches as the tree grows; when branching begins at the desired height, remove lower branches. On established trees, head back or thin out branches that look out of balance.

For the tree sometimes called desert catalpa, see Chilopsis linearis.

Catalpa bignonioides (photo courtesy of Susan A. Roth)
Catalpa bignonioides (photo courtesy of Susan A. Roth)

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Catalpa bignonioides

Native to southeastern U.S. Generally smaller than C. speciosa, growing to 30–40 ft. tall, with an equal spread. Leaves are 5–8 in. long, often arranged in whorls, and give off an odd odor when crushed. Becomes chlorotic in alkaline soil. Resistant to oak root fungus.

Yellow leaves of ‘Aurea’ are showier where summers are cool.

Catalpa speciosa (photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Inc.)
Catalpa speciosa (photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Inc.)

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Catalpa speciosa

Native to central U.S., this tree grows to 40–60 ft. tall, 20 to 40 ft. wide. Heart-shaped leaves are 6–12 in. long and odorless when crushed. Fewer flowers per cluster than for C. bignonioides.

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