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TREES & Plants

Chinese catalpa

The Chinese catalpa thrives in Midwestern urban environments.  This tree can withstand a range of soil types, including wet and dry conditions, which makes it useful in difficult sites such as moist low spots and dry sites with poor soils.

Botanical name: 
Catalpa ovata
All Common Names: 
Chinese catalpa, Yellow catalpa
Family (English): 
Bignonia,
Family (Botanic): 
Bignoniaceae
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Tree
Foliage: 
  • Deciduous (foliage falls off)
Native Locale: 
  • Non-native
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 5
  • Zone 6
  • Zone 7
  • Zone 8
Growth Rate: 
  • Slow
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Partial sun (4-6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Partial shade (4-6 hrs indirect light daily)
Tolerances: 
  • Dry sites
  • Wet sites
  • Alkaline soil
Soil Preference: 
  • Alkaline soil
  • Moist, well-drained soil
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • White
Size Range: 
  • Medium tree (25-40 feet)
Shape or Form: 
  • Irregular
  • Rounded
Landscape Uses: 
  • Shade
  • Parkway/street
Time of Year: 
  • Mid spring
  • Late spring
More Information: 

Size and Form

30 to 40 feet high and 25 to 30 feet wide; irregular to rounded form

Tree & Plant Care

Easily grown in average, medium to wet, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade.  Prefers moist fertile loams.
Tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions including both wet and dry soils.
Tolerant of seasonal flooding.
This tree can be messy when flowers and fruits fall; branches are brittle and may fall in storms.

Disease, pests and problems

Verticillium wilt and minor problems like leaf spots and powdery mildew.

Native geographic location and habitat

Native to China.

Bark color and texture 

Bark of mature trees is fissured, prominently ridged and pale gray-brown. 

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Simple leaves may be alternate or whorled.
Wide, ovate, light green leaves (to 10 inches long and wide) are usually entire but sometimes 3 to 5 lobed.
Leaves abruptly taper to points at the tips.
Foliage turns an undistinguished yellow in fall. 

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Flowers are attractive, but not as showy as southern catalpa (C. bignonioides ) and northern catalpa (C. speciosa).
Bell-shaped, yellowish-white flowers (each to 3/4 inch long) with purple and orange inner spotting; appear in clusters (panicles), to 10 inches long.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Pod-like capsules, 8 to 12 inches long, filled with winged seeds; capsules much thinner than those of other catalpa species.