By Derek Hanson
The Northern Catalpa is part of the Bignonia family. It is native to southern Illinois, southern Indiana, western Tennessee, and northern Arkansas. It is a very showy tree that can cause a lot of shade. It can grow up to 40-60 ft, but sometimes it can reach 100 ft. It has a spread of about 20-40 ft. The Northern Catalpa will be more of an oval shaped tree. It is hardy in zones 4-8 and can withstand hot summers.
Leaves: The leaves are very big and are ovate shaped with a rounded cordate bottom. They are whorled which means that there are 3 leaves and buds at a single node. The leaves can be anywhere from 6-12 inches long and 3-8 inches wide. They are green with little soft hairs on the bottom of the leaf. The petiole will be 4-6 inches long. The fall color of the leaves will be yellow or brown, but they often fall off before they turn colors.
Flowers: The Northern Catalpa has beautiful white flowers with some yellow and purple on the inside. The flowers have a corolla and are in large upright panicles. The flowers will bloom from May to June. They are usually 2 inches long and wide.
Fruits: The fruits are an amazing site to see. They are huge capsules that hang downward. These fruits can be 8-20 inches long and about ¾ inches wide. They have thick walls and lots of seeds inside. In the summer they are green and in the winter they turn brown and tend to hang on for awhile. They will split to release their seeds.
A mature Northern Catalpa can be very beautiful, especially when the flowers are in bloom. It can be planted in difficult growing areas like low spots and dry areas. It isn’t used much in landscape because it is a coarse tree with poor fall color and the branches are brittle. The fruits will also make a big mess.
There are some problems with the Northern Catalpa. Disease isn’t that big of a problem, but they can get them. The caterpillars of the catalpa sphinx moth will do a lot of damage to the leaves. It can also get mildew and leaf spots
Kemper Center For Home Gardens
Other Information From:
Dirr, Michael A. "Catalpa speciosa." Manual of Woody Landscape Plants. Champaign, Illinois: Stipes Publishing L.L.C. 1998. 192-193.
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