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TREES & plants

Northern catalpa

Spring flowers of Northern catalpa.

This Midwest native tree grows 40 to 60 feet tall, with a narrow, open, irregularly rounded crown and spreading branches. It has large, heart-shaped leaves and large clusters of fragrant, white flowers. The long, interesting seed pods persist through the winter. Northern catalpa is very adaptable to adverse conditions, but has weak wood and branch structure.

Botanical name: 
Catalpa speciosa
All Common Names: 
northern catalpa, catalpa, cigar-tree, hardy catalpa, western catalpa
Family (English): 
Bignonia
Family (Botanic): 
Bignoniaceae
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Tree
Foliage: 
  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
Native Locale: 
  • Illinois, 
  • North America
Planting Site: 
  • Residential and parks, 
  • City parkway, 
  • Wide median, 
  • Restricted sites
Landscape Uses: 
  • Specimen, 
  • Shade tree, 
  • Parkway/street
Size Range: 
  • Large tree (more than 40 feet)
Mature Height: 
40-60 feet
Mature Width: 
20-40 feet
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 4, 
  • Zone 5 (Chicago), 
  • Zone 6, 
  • Zone 7, 
  • Zone 8
Soil Preference: 
  • Alkaline soil, 
  • Moist, well-drained soil
Acid Soils: 
  • Tolerant
Alkaline Soils: 
  • Tolerant
Salt Spray: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Soil Salt: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Drought Conditions: 
  • Tolerant
Poor Drainage: 
  • Tolerant
Planting Considerations: 
  • Messy fruit/plant parts, 
  • Weak wood and branch structure
Ornamental Interest: 
  • Spring blossoms, 
  • Fragrant flowers, 
  • Persistent fruit/seeds, 
  • Showy flowers, 
  • Attractive bark
Season of Interest: 
  • Late spring, 
  • Early summer
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Fragrant, 
  • White
Shape or Form: 
  • Irregular, 
  • Narrow, 
  • Oval, 
  • Upright
Growth Rate: 
  • Fast
Transplants Well: 
  • Yes
Wildlife: 
  • Insect pollinators
More Information: 

A mature specimen of Northern catalpa.Northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa)photo: John Hagstrom

Tree & Plant Care

It is very adaptable to adverse conditions but is pollution sensitive.
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 from the lower Midwest into the southern states (southern Illinois south to Arkansas).

Bark color and texture 

Bark is gray-brown, scaly with age.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Simple leaves are 6 to 10 inches long and heart-shaped, whorled or opposite along branches. Fall color is yellow-green to brown.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Upright, 4 to 8 inch clusters (panicles) of white, bell-shaped flowers with orange stripes and purple spots and stripes.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Pod-like capsules, 8 to 20 inches long, filled with winged seeds.

 

 

Catalpa speciosa or Northern catalpa