Each tree species has a variety of aesthetic factors that people consider when selecting a new addition for their landscape. For example, what color are the leaves in the fall? Does the tree have showy flowers? Will it produce an interesting fruit? Northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) shines in each of these areas and more.
As trees begin to bud, Northern catalpa fills its branches with large, up to 12 inch long, light green, heart-shaped leaves that often have a soft pubescent underside. These larges leaves help to create a rounded to unevenly-rounded canopy with a mature tree height of 40 to 70 feet and a spread of up to 50 feet. Although the leaves themselves are very noteworthy, the early summer flower and fruit that follows are what gather interest with Northern catalpa. If the showy, orchid-like, white flower with interior purple and yellow spotting doesn’t grab one’s attention, the sweet smell it produces will, also captivating hummingbirds and bees alike. After the flowers have fallen, one’s gaze shifts to the long and slender green seed pods. Growing 12-22 inches long, these are why the catalpa is known by some as the “green bean tree”. Northern catalpa grows great in full sun to part shade. It is tolerant of most soil types, including clay, and has shown to handle drought conditions quite well.
An example of this tree is located in the southwest portion of the Margaret Annis Boys Centennial Arboretum, for those who would like to see one in person. This particular tree is not currently labeled with a sign, but it may be identified by the large leaves and seed pods.