Tennessee Smart Yards Native Plants

A comprehensive database of Tennessee native plants

Southern Catalpa, Cigar Tree, Indian Bean

Southern Catalpa, Cigar Tree, Indian Bean

Catalpa bignonioides

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; slightly acid to slightly alkaline pH.

25-40 feet height by 25-40 feet spread; white flowers with yellow and purple spots and orange stripes in late spring; long, slender seed pods, 6-24 inches long and ½ inch wide, turning brown 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 in a total of 15 counties, with largest concentration in NE corner of the state.

An attractive, deciduous tree with very showy flowers and short, crooked branches that form a broad, irregular crown. Leaves have a bad smell when crushed. 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. This species was originally found in southern Gulf states of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana but has since spread to many states east of the Rocky Mountains. It is often labeled “invasive,” primarily due to its tendency to spread to states west of the Mississippi River. It is native to stream banks, wetlands and low, wet woodlands. 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 Northern Catalpa which also occurs in the state of Tennessee. Compared to the Northern Catalpa, this species is slightly smaller, has slightly shorter leaves, flowers a little later, and has more purple color in the flowers.

Attracts honey bees and hummingbirds.


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