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Northern catalpa

Spring flowers of Northern catalpa.

Catalpa is a 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):


Family (Botanic):


Planting Site:

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

Tree or Plant Type:

  • Tree


  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)

Native Locale:

  • Illinois,
  • North America

Landscape Uses:

  • Parkway/street,
  • Shade tree,
  • Specimen

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


  • Dry sites,
  • Wet sites,
  • Occasional flooding,
  • Alkaline soil,
  • Road salt

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

Seasons of Interest:

  • late spring,
  • early summer

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Fragrant,
  • White

Shape or Form:

  • Irregular,
  • Narrow,
  • Oval,
  • Upright

Growth Rate:

  • Fast

Transplants Well:

  • Yes


  • Insect pollinators

More Information:

Northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa)
Northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa)
photo: John Hagstrom

Size & Form

A large, upright to rounded tree reaching 50 feet high and 35 feet wide.

Tree & Plant Care

Best in full sun in well-drained soil.
Tolerant of temporary wet conditions but should not stand in water.
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.

Cultivars and their differences

Heartland Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa 'Hiawatha 2'): 50 feet high and 25 feet wide, upright, narrow oval

Location of Catalpa speciosa (Northern catalpa) at the Arboretum