Tennessee Smart Yards Native Plants

A comprehensive database of Tennessee native plants

Northern Catalpa, Hardy Catalpa, Cigar Tree

Northern Catalpa, Hardy Catalpa, Cigar Tree

Catalpa speciosa

Full to part sun; moderately wet to moderately dry moisture level; prefers deep, fertile loam but tolerates a wide range of soil conditions including clay and sandy soils; slightly acid to alkaline pH.

40-60 feet height by 20-40 feet spread; white flowers with purplish and yellow spots or streaks in late spring to early summer; seeds are in brown, pencil-thin curved pods 8-20 inches long appearing in fall and usually held through winter.

Growth Rate: Rapid at first but slows down with age as the crown begins to round out.

Maintenance: Litter and smell are the biggest management problems. Trees drop a heavy load of flowers in spring, a plentiful supply of large leaves in fall, and large seedpods in winter. Although seed pods are plentiful, it is unlikely that too many seedlings will be able to germinate and grow in the vicinity of the tree as long as there is not a lot of bare soil in full sun nearby. Trees may send up root suckers but they are usually manageable and easily removed. Tree is weak-wooded and will undoubtedly drop twigs almost continuously. When selecting a new tree, look for one that has a wide branching structure with branches that are more “U” shaped instead of narrow “V”s. This branching pattern will help reduce susceptibility to damage. Best to prune or remove weakened branches that seem to be dying or cracking.

Propagation: Very easy from seed. No pre-treatment required. Both hardwood and softwood stem cuttings can be used for propagation.

Native Region: Scattered statewide with largest concentration in West Tennessee

Tree has a bold, rugged outline that is quite striking in winter. Large, bell-shaped, orchid-like flowers can be spectacular. Needs full sun to flower well. Abundant seed pods are produced every 2-3 years. Foliage is an undistinguishable yellow in autumn and often falls from the tree before turning. A bit coarse for the residential landscape but it is tough and adaptable, making a good landscape tree for difficult areas such as moist, low spots or areas with dry, poor soil. Native to riverbanks and floodplains and is not drought-tolerant. Cultivars available.

Foliage is often eaten by larvae of the Catalpa Sphinx Moth, and almost complete defoliation may occur in some years. After complete defoliation, trees usually recover, growing a new set of leaves within a month. Some individual trees are ignored by the moth for unknown reasons. These larvae are considered by anglers to be very desirable fish bait.

This species is very similar to the Southern Catalpa which also occurs in the state of Tennessee. Compared to the Southern Catalpa, this species is slightly larger, has slightly longer leaves, flowers a little earlier, and has both orange and purple in the flowers.

Attracts honey bees and hummingbirds.

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