Catalpa speciosa (Warder) Engelm. – Bignoniaceae – bignonia family

Catalpas are trees that are easily recognized because of the long cylindrical, woody pod-like fruits (capsules) they produce, which are generally dropped to the ground in two long brown strips. The fruits are the basis for the other common name, cigar tree.  Catalpas are messy, but they are rapid-growing and produce extremely showy flowers.  In Albion they flower in June.

Catalpas are northern members of a tropical family that includes beautiful ornamentals grown in south Florida (for all you Michigan snowbirds) like jacarandas, tabebouias, and the African tulip tree.

Our common catalpa in Albion is the native northern catalpa.  The southern catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides Walter), which is common in the southeastern U.S., may also be planted in Albion, but we have not seen a local specimen.  Sue Reiske has pointed out that there’s a beautiful catalpa at the entrance to Riverside Cemetery.

Catalpas are fed upon by the caterpillars of catalpa sphinx moths, which are known as catalpa worms or catawba worms.  Catalpa worms are known as excellent panfish and catfish bait, especially further south where they are more common.