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Northern Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa)


Northern Catalpa or Hardy Catalpa

Catalpa speciosa

(Order Scrophulariales; Family Bignoniaceae)

Catalpa speciosa (photos by Jessie Stark)

(Kansas: Sedgwick County.  53rd Street North and Sullivan, approximately 100 m east of Little Arkansas River.  July 13, 2012).



Height: 9-20 m tall; 30-100 cm in diameter

Growth Habit: Trunk is usually short with thick branches and a wide, rounded crown.

Bark: Thin, brown, broken into thick scales

Wood: Light, soft, and weak

Leaves: Leaves are whorled, simple, and deciduous. The large, heart-shaped leaves are 20-30 cm long and are dark green above, paler and hairy below. Petioles are long, stout, and round.

Flowers: Tubular, 2-lipped, perfect, and showy; they hang in open few-flowered panicles. The calyx is hairy; the corolla is white with yellow spots and speckles of deep red. Flowers are 6.5 cm across and appear after the leaves.

Fruits: Fruits are long, round 2-celled capsules, 20-50 cm long and 1.3 cm thick. They are persistent through winter. The numerous seeds are flattened and rounded with fringed wings 1.5 cm long.

Catalpa speciosa (front and back sides of leaf, respectively)

Catalpa speciosa (trunk and fruit, respectively)

(above photos by Jessie Stark)

(Kansas: Sedgwick County.  53rd Street North and Sullivan, approximately 100 m east of Little Arkansas River.  July 13, 2012).

Left: flowers of Catalpa speciosa (from:

Right: seeds of Catalpa speciosa (from:


Flowering Period:




Low woods, stream banks, also cultivated


Conservation Status:

Not threatened (can be invasive)

Listed on the National Wetland Plant List as an indicator species: FAC (Facultative) and FACU (Facultative Upland)


Native Status:

Native to the United States and Canada



Widely planted and naturalized through all but the coldest portions of the United States.

Distribution of Catalpa speciosa (from:



The tube of the corolla has both mechanical and color nectar guides. The northern catalpa is pollinated diurnally by bumblebees and carpenter bees. Nocturnally, it is pollinated by various moths (Geometridae, Ctenuchidae, Noctuidae, Lasiocampidae, Sphingidae). Notably, the northern catalpa hosts the larvae of the catalpa sphinx moth, Ceratomia catalpae, which is one of the “hornworm” species of sphingid moth. Females lay eggs on the foliage in April or early May and the caterpillars feed intensively on the leaves until burrowing in the ground to pupate.

Catalpa sphinx moth female (left) and larva (right)



Human Uses:

Northern catalpas are sometimes planted as a food source to attract and rear catalpa sphinx moth caterpillars, known as catawba worms, as they make excellent fish bait. The tree spread from its original range in the Mississippi River basin throughout the eastern half of the United States because it was widely planted for making fence posts. Its showy flowers have made it a popular landscaping tree and it has naturalized in riparian areas similar to its native habitat.





Floridata: Catalpa speciosa:

North Carolina State University Plant Fact Sheet:

North Dakota State University: Propagation of the Northern Catalpa Tree, Catalpa speciosa:

Discover Life: Catalpa Sphinx Moth:



Brockman, F. Trees of North America. Golden Press. New York, NY.


Jackman, J. 1999. Field Guide to Texas Insects. Gulf Publishing Company. Houston, TX.


Preston, R. North American Trees. 1976. The MIT Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Stephenson, A. and W. Thomas. 1977. Diurnal and nocturnal pollination of Catalpa speciosa (Bignoniaceae). Systematic Botany: 191-198.


USDA, NRCS. 2012. The PLANTS Database. (, 27 July 2012).


National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.


Washington State University County Extension. Pacific Northwest Plants. (, 27 July 2012). Vancouver, WA 98665 USA.


Submitted by: Jessie Stark, July 2012

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