Carolina Nature

Trees, Shrubs, and Woody Vines of North Carolina

Northern Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa)

Plantae>Magnoliophyta>Magnoliopsida>Scrophulariales>Bignoniaceae>Catalpa speciosa (Warder) Warder ex Engelm.

Northern Catalpa, Catawba Tree (Catalpa speciosa)

A very showy tree with large creamy flowers and cordate leaves. Commonly called the Catawba or Indian Bean Tree, this midwestern US native is an occasional escape from cultivation in North Carolina.

Grayson Co., VA 6/18/06.

Northern Catalpa, Catawba Tree (Catalpa speciosa) flowers

Very similar to and frequently confused with Southern Catalpa (C. bignoniodes), which also occasionally escapes, but Northern Catalpa has slightly larger flowers (4-6 cm broad) with a notched lower corolla lobed and Southern has smaller flowers (2-4 cm). Northern Catalpa also blooms slightly earlier (May-June vs. June in the Piedmont) and sets fruit earlier (July-Aug. vs. Oct.).

Northern Catalpa, Catawba Tree (Catalpa speciosa) leaves

You can't reliably tell the difference between Northern and Southern Catalpa by leaf shape, though Northern is supposed to have slightly more long-pointed leaves.

The long bean-like pods are a better clue -- they're thicker in Northern (10-15 mm) than in Southern (6-10 mm).

Galax, VA 6/14/2003.

Northern Catalpa, Catawba Tree (Catalpa speciosa) bark

Bark detail.

Grayson Co., VA 6/18/06.

More information:
NC State Fact Sheet
USDA PLANTS database
Virginia Tech Dendrology

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