Grown for its clusters of fragrant white flowers and large heart-shaped leaves, the Western catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) is a large shade tree with an open and rounded crown. This species will start to leaf in the late spring. By the summer, long panicles of orchid-shaped flowers begin to appear on the branches. These white flowers are speckled with colors of purple and yellow. After blooming, the flowers will make way for thin seeded pods. The catalpa’s reddish-brown bark develops into a gray hue as it heads into the fall season. The Western catalpa is one of the first trees to change its shade for the season as the leaves fade into a beautiful yellow color.
Western Catalpa Ornamental Features
These trees are a native North American species, and you can find them from southern Illinois to northeastern Arkansas. This deciduous tree features heart-shaped leaves that range from six to 12 inches long, and they have a width of three to eight inches. The color of the leaves ranges from medium to bright green.
The Western catalpa is known for its orchid-like flowers that grow together in conical clusters. These individual flowers are often white with pink-purple or yellow speckles, and they can reach a length of two inches. You can expect these blooms to appear in the spring to early summer. In the summer, the seed pods remain a green color as they grow to 10 to 24 inches long. As the seed pods mature, they will turn brown in the autumn. The long brown fruit capsules take the shape of vanilla beans and stay on the tree throughout the winter.
The bark’s appearance ranges from rigid to scaly. On mature trees, the bark is a grayish-brown color. With young trees, the bark is thinner, and it is susceptible to damage from pests or landscaping impacts.
- Botanical name: Catalpa speciosa
- All Common Names: Northern catalpa, Catalpa, Cigar-tree, Hardy catalpa, Western catalpa
- Family (English): Bignonia
- Family (Botanic): Bignoniaceae
- Planting Site: Residential and parks, City parkway, Wide median, Restricted sites
- Tree or Plant Type: Tree
- Foliage: 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
- Tolerances: 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
- Season of Interest: Late spring, Early summer
- Flower Color & Fragrance: Fragrant, White
- Shape or Form: Irregular, Narrow, Oval, Upright
- Growth Rate: Fast
- Transplants Well: Yes
- Wildlife: Insect pollinators
Western Catalpa Horticultural Uses
The Western catalpa tree makes an excellent feature for large areas, including parks and yards. With its broad shape and large size, the tree is an excellent choice if you want a shade tree for your space. The Western catalpa tree’s most notable features are the bean-like pods and white flowers. With its unique form, this sizable flowering tree can do well in most environments. However, those pod beans and flowers tend to be messy as they drop at different times of the year. You will want to plant them in easy-to-reach areas for quick cleanup.
Western Catalpa Growing and Care
The Western catalpa is a hardy deciduous tree, and it grows well in USDA hardiness zones 4 to 8. The tree has a moderate to fast growth rate, and it will increase its growth as a juvenile tree. As the tree begins to mature, the growth rate will slow. When the tree reaches 20 years, it will attain a height of 30 feet.
The Western catalpa tree prefers to grow in deep, moist, and well-draining soil. However, it can adapt to wet or dry soil. This tree does need a specific soil pH with a range between 5.5 to 7.0. The Western catalpa can grow in spaces with partial shade to full sun. This tree requires moderate irrigation to stay healthy. While the tree is young, pruning and shaping are necessary. Pruning should be completed in the spring after the first year of planting.
These trees must be trained with a straight leader trunk. As the tree starts to mature, pruning is needed to keep low branches from inferring with the plant’s growth. The tree needs to avoid overhead watering as it can cause fungal or mildew problems on the crown. Since the branches are brittle in younger trees, it needs to be protected from high winds and storms. During high heat and droughts, the leaves can scorch or drop.
This tree will need some landscaping care throughout the year. The seed pods are often blown off the tree, and they will need to be collected before mowing.
Western Catalpa Trees Are a Great Choice
These trees are popular choices in the Midwest, but you can grow them in various environments. The bright green trees feature creamy white flowers that provide shade throughout the year. This rounded tree also has unique pods that add a spectacular touch to your landscape.
At Arbor Valley Nursery, there is a wide variety of shrubs and trees in our inventory, including the Western catalpa. If you would like to learn more about this tree, please take a few minutes to fill out the contact form.