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Chinese catalpa

Leaves and fruit of 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):


Family (Botanic):


Planting Site:

  • Residential and parks,
  • City parkway,
  • Wide median

Tree or Plant Type:

  • Tree


  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)

Native Locale:

  • Non-native

Landscape Uses:

  • Parkway/street,
  • Shade tree

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 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7,
  • Zone 8

Soil Preference:

  • Alkaline soil,
  • Moist, well-drained soil


  • Dry sites,
  • Wet sites,
  • Alkaline soil,
  • Clay soil,
  • Road salt

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

Ornamental Interest:

  • Spring blossoms,
  • Showy flowers

Seasons of Interest:

  • mid spring,
  • late spring

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • White

Shape or Form:

  • Oval,
  • Round

Growth Rate:

  • Moderate

Transplants Well:

  • Yes


  • Insect pollinators

More Information:

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.


Location of Catalpa ovata (Chinese catalpa) at the Arboretum