Catalpa speciosa (Northern Catalpa)

Plant Info
Also known as: Cigar Tree
Genus:Catalpa
Family:Bignoniaceae (Trumpet Creeper)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Origin:southeast US
Habitat:sun; disturbed soil; forest edges, ravines, floodplains, roadsides, fencerows, residential landscapes
Bloom season:May - June
Plant height:30 to 80 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU MW: FACU NCNE: FACU
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: irregular Flower shape: tubular Cluster type: panicle

[photo of flowers] Branching clusters at the tips of 1-year-old branches. Flowers are very showy, tubular, about 2½ inches long, to 1+ inch wide, white with 5 ruffled lobes that have purple spots and streaks into the tube. The upper 2 lobes are shortest and turn up, the lower 3 extend out and down and have a pair of orange-yellow lines near the base and into the tube. Inside the tube are 2 fertile stamens, 3 shorter sterile stamens, and a white style.

[side view of flower] The calyx cupping the flower is short and has 2 lobes of unequal size. The calyx, stems and stalks are hairless to sparsely hairy.

Leaves and bark: Leaf attachment: opposite Leaf attachment: whorl Leaf type: simple

[leaf scan] Leaves are simple and opposite, sometimes whorled or appearing so, the blade 6 to 12 inches long, 5 to 8 inches wide, tapered to a pointed tip, the base straight across to slightly rounded to heart-shaped, on a stalk up to 5 inches long. Edges are toothless, the upper surface dark green and hairless, lower surface lighter green and hairy especially along major veins. Leaf stalks are sparsely hairy.

[photo of twig, leaf scar and bud] Twigs are initially green turning reddish-brown, and hairless with scattered white lenticils (pores). The terminal bud is absent and lateral buds are covered in reddish-brown scales. Leaf scars are large and oval to nearly round.

[photo of mature trunk] Older bark is gray to reddish brown, with shallow to deep fissures and scaly ridges. Branches are stiff and form an irregular crown. Trunks can reach 40 inches diameter at breast height (dbh).

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of developing fruit] Fruit is a slender, cylindric, bean-like capsule 10 to 20 inches long and about ½ inch wide, greenish in summer drying to reddish-brown and persisting through winter.

[photo of seeds] The capsule splits in two in spring, revealing overlapping, flattened seeds that have a papery covering forming a fringed wing on each end. The seed with its covering is ¾ to 1 inch long.

Notes:

Northern Catalpa is native to a limited region to our south and east but has been cultivated as a landscape tree outside of its natural range. It occasionally escapes cultivation. It volunteered in our own yard from elsewhere in the neighborhood and we transplanted it to a sunnier spot our front yard. It should be recognizable almost any time of year. Look for the persistent fruits, twigs lacking a terminal bud and the nearly round leaf scar in winter, the large, showy flowers in spring and the large, egg to heart-shaped leaves through fall.

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More photos

Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka and Ramsey counties.

Comments

Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Pat W - Brainerd Arboretum
on: 2020-01-17 08:01:10

The Brainerd arboretum has some specimens but they seem to struggle in this colder climate, I had a very large tree in my yard when I lived in Excelsior many years ago, and it had wonderful blooms with scent, and was perfectly hardy. I even saw some neighborhoods in S Mpls that had their boulevards lined with them. I wonder just how far north they can expect to thrive. It doesn't appear they can at this latitude.

Posted by: Jacob Nelson - ELK RIVER
on: 2020-04-19 09:04:40

There's a nice big Catalpa in center median of MN 10 in Elk River and a few others scattered around the city.

Posted by: Ross - Mississippi river
on: 2020-05-08 22:25:30

They are spreading like crazy along the Mississippi river. I have seen them as far north as the city of Anoka and in the floodplain of the Mississippi river.

Posted by: Jake - Eagan
on: 2020-06-20 12:00:15

We have a group of massive Northern Catalpas at our little neighborhood park in Eagan. The massive leaves and beautiful flowers really are captivating, rather otherworldly compared to the ash and maple trees around. The seed pods are pretty big and litter the ground in the fall.

Posted by: Rob Esse - Little Falls
on: 2020-07-18 23:55:50

There are a few mature catalpas in town. We've tried growing one but it dies back each year.

Posted by: Lynda - Saint Paul
on: 2021-04-15 12:22:56

There's a large specimen on Victoria St N near Ivy in St. Paul.

Posted by: T - Morrison Co.
on: 2021-06-19 19:06:50

A nice Catalpa at Little Elk park, in Morrison County. It is next to the river, near an old homestead site. Flowering now, a beautiful tree!

Posted by: Susan D Dredge - Bloomington
on: 2021-07-16 16:54:16

We have a mature one growing in our front yard in Bloomington.

Posted by: Edie Seelen - Little Falls
on: 2021-07-21 12:06:56

My neighbor started a tree for me, it's only about 2' high right now. She said to transplant in fall - is that a good time? Or can I keep it in a larger pot in our garage through this next winter and transplant next year when it's bigger? Not sure how fast they grow. Thanks!

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