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TREES & plants

Chinese catalpa

The Chinese catalpa thrives in Midwestern urban environments. It has showy blossoms that appear in the spring, followed by bean-like seed pods. 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
Native Locale: 
  • Non-native
Planting Site: 
  • Residential and parks
  • City parkway
  • Wide median
Landscape Uses: 
  • Shade
  • Parkway/street
Size Range: 
  • Medium tree (25-40 feet)
  • Small tree (15-25 feet)
Mature Height: 
20-30 feet
Mature Width: 
20-30 feet
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 4
  • Zone 5
  • Zone 6
  • Zone 7
  • Zone 8
Soil Preference: 
  • Alkaline soil
Acid Soils: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Alkaline Soils: 
  • Tolerant
Salt Spray: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Soil Salt: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Drought Conditions: 
  • Tolerant
Poor Drainage: 
  • Tolerant
Planting Considerations: 
  • May be difficult to find in nurseries
  • Messy fruit/plant parts
  • Weak wood and branch structure
Foliage: 
  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
Ornamental Interest: 
  • Spring blossoms
  • Showy flowers
Season of Interest: 
  • Mid spring
  • Late spring
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • White
Shape or Form: 
  • Spreading
Growth Rate: 
  • Moderate
Transplants Well: 
  • Yes
Wildlife: 
  • Insect pollinators
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.