Southern Catalpa






Southern Catalpa

(Catalpa Bignonioides)

Interesting Information About Plant:  

     Southern Catalpa has many interesting features and uses.  For one thing, it's strong, extensive root system can prevent soil erosion.  And the strong wood is used for fence posts and making furniture.  Finally, fibers from the fruit of the plant can be used to make ropes. Catalpa also has several medicinal uses. It can be made into a tea that is an antidote for snake bites and has also used for a laxative.  Catalpa is also known to be a mild narcotic, which is used in curing the “whooping cough. Because of the shape of the leaves, the Southern Catalpa was used for heart illnesses by Native American medicine men. 

     It is a fast growing tree which prefers moist, well drained, alkaline soil, but can tolerate a range of soil types (this is why it could be, to some, considered a weedy plant).  The flowers grow in clusters and have red and yellow stripes.  The wood is very light and resistant to rotting, which is why it was used a lot for fence posts and railroad ties until metal took over.  The Catawba worm strives on the tree; these worms are great for fish bait.  The bean pods look like big cigars, which gives this plant another common name.  It can reach heights of 70’ tall and 40’ wide: its height along with its brittle wood makes it subject to wind and ice damage.

Scientific Name: Catalpa Bignonioides

Family Name (Scientific and Common): Bignoniaceae

Continent of Origin: Northeastern United States          

Plant Growth Habit: Tree

Height at Maturity: More than 10 Feet

Life Span: Perennial

Seasonal Habit: Deciduous Perennial

Growth Habitat: Full / Partial Sun

Manner of Culture: Landscape Shrub-Vine-Tree 

Thorns on Younger Stem: No

Cross Section of Younger Stem: Roundish   

Stem (or Trunk) Diameter: More Than The Diameter of a Coffee-Mug 

Produces Brownish Bark: Yes  

Bark Peeling in Many Areas: No

Characteristics of Mature (Brownish) Bark: Lines Go Up-Down  

Type of Leaf: Flat, Thin Leaf  

Length of Leaf (or Leaflet): Longer Than a Writing Pen

Leaf Complexity: Simple 

Edge of Leaf: Smooth 

Leaf Arrangement: Whorled (3 or more leaves per node)

Leaf has Petiole: Yes 

Patterns of Main-Veins on Leaf (or Leaflet): Pinnate 

Leaf Hairiness: Somewhat Hairy (underneath) 

Color of Foliage in Summer: Green 

Change in Color of Foliage in October: Changes to Yellow   

Flowering Season: Spring 

Flowers: Tightly Clustered 

Type of Flower: Colorful Flower

Color of Flower: White 

Shape of Individual Flower: Radial Symmetry

Size of Individual Flower: Between a Quarter and the Length of a Credit Card  

Sexuality: Hermaphroditic Flower   

Size of Fruit: Larger than the Length of a Credit Card

Fruit Fleshiness: Fleshy  

Shape of Fruit: Long Pod   

Color of Fruit at Maturity: Green   

Fruit Desirable to Birds or Squirrels: No   

Common Name(s): Northern Catalpa, Hardy Catalpa, Western Catalpa, Cigar Tree, and Catawba-Tree

Louisville Plants That Are Most Easily Confused With This One: Royal Paulownia, Tulip Poplar  dr.

Unique Morphological Features of Plant: Long bean pods and heart shaped leaves

Poisonous: None of Plant

Pestiness (weedy, hard to control): Somewhat


Page prepared by: 


Stephen Fowler & Jon Erikson       

 November 2004







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© Bellarmine University, Louisville, KY 2002-2004