A catalpa in bloom is like a tree full of orchid blos­soms

The Progress-Index - At Home - - RIGHT AT HOME / HOME GARDENING - Lee Re­ich — www.leere­ich.com/blog

I stopped to stare at some buck­ets of flow­ers at a farm­ers’ mar­ket last Sun­day. The white flow­ers, their throats speck­led pur­ple and yel­low and grouped to­gether on stalks like a can­de­labra, looked al­most like or­chids. But there’s no orchid that showy that could be har­vested in such quan­ti­ties in a cold-win­ter cli­mate.

Buck­ets and buck­ets were over­flow­ing with these flow­ers; even an av­er­age-size green­house couldn’t sup­ply that many orchid blos­soms at once.

The flow­ers were not or­chids, of course. I stared and scratched my head, and then was em­bar­rassed when the farmer told me what they were: catalpa flow­ers.

Catalpa. One of my fa­vorite trees. I’d al­ways ad­mired the blos­soms en masse and from afar, as they dec­o­rated enor­mous trees. Now, here they were, up close and bunched to­gether in buck­ets.


Catalpa has a lot go­ing for it be­sides beau­ti­ful flow­ers. It tol­er­ates all sorts of grow­ing con­di­tions: heat, cold, wet soils, dry soils, pol­lu­tion, sun and shade.

Catalpa’s leaves, as well as its flow­ers, evoke the trop­ics. The leaves are large, up to about a foot long, and heart-shaped.

It’s a won­der that more peo­ple don’t plant catalpa trees. One rea­son is that catalpa can be a big tree, and a be­he­moth 75 or 100 feet tall and half that width is too large for many yards. (A south­ern species, also quite cold-hardy, grows to only half that size.)


The main rea­son peo­ple don’t plant catal­pas is be­cause the trees are con­sid­ered messy. Those large leaves look dra­matic hang­ing on the branches but once they drop ... well, they’re not as at­trac­tive flopped down on a lawn.

And then there are the fruits. Catalpa is also known as In­dian Pipe or In­dian Sto­gie for the foot-long, half-inch-wide brown fruits that dan­gle in pro­fu­sion from the stems. They drop in au­tumn and win­ter, and some peo­ple ob­ject to those sto­gies on their lawn. Some peo­ple also don’t like the dropped flow­ers lit­ter­ing the lawn. But wait a sec­ond here: I don’t con­sider a lawn awash in orchid-like blos­soms to be lit­tered!

I do have other beefs, all rel­a­tively mi­nor, against my catalpa tree. One is that catal­pas leaf out late in spring so that, for a time in spring when just about ev­ery other plant is green, catalpa ap­pears to be dead. Its bare branches do get to show off how thick, craggy and mus­cu­lar they are, a look I ap­pre­ci­ate more in win­ter than in spring.


A catalpa in bloom is like a whole tree full of or­chid-like blos­soms, good in vases or just ad­mired on the branches.

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