Catalpa Tree Facts, Uses, and Planting Tips

Updated on November 20, 2017

The catalpa tree is a quicker growing deciduous tree that can reach heights of around eighty feet. Though, more realistically, many trees of this species will typically grow to be about fifty feet in height. The catalpa's quickest growing period is during the first ten years of its age, where it reaches twenty feet in height, before slowing down in its growth. Regarding its growing regions, the catalpa can be grown in most areas throughout the United States and in many other climates and areas around the world.

Some of the most notable features of this tree are its white flowers that resemble an iris, given its shape and its purple and yellow coloring. The flowers themselves will appear in late spring and give the tree a noticeable white covering amongst its huge green leaves. Another notable, unique feature of this tree are the bean pods, which appear later in the season. As for the leaves, the sharp-pointed, semi heart-shaped leaves of the catalpa do not change color in the fall. At least not like leaves from other trees do. After the first frost, the leaves and seeds will fall off the tree. In areas where winters aren't all that bad, and depending on the species of the catalpa, you may see new trees popping up in spring from the dropped seeds/seed pods. The new saplings are quite easy to move somewhere that's more convenient for growing and will survive careful transplanting, without any problems. Though you can also collect the seeds from a seed pod for planting in a planter indoors and then transplanting that new tree in the spring, especially in colder climates. You can also grow a new tree from cuttings.

The catalpa is considered an ornamental tree of sorts and its white flowers certainly add a great deal of attention-grabbing appeal to the tree when they bloom in late spring. As long as you don't mind fallen seed pods, large leaves and flowers collecting on the ground, this tree is an excellent choice for growing in your yard. Even better, it makes for a great shade tree with its large leaves.

The more common species of the Catalpa are, as listed below:

Northern Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa)
Southern Catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides)
Chinese Catalpa (Catalpa ovata)

Unofficial and historic names for the Catalpa tree are the Indian bean tree, Catawba, and the Cigar tree.


Planting and Growth

  • Collect the pods after the leaves fall, once the pods are sufficiently dried, but before the seeds have fallen from open pods.
  • Store the pods in a dry area. When you're ready, the seeds may be separated from the pods and placed in packets.
  • You can grow a catalpa tree from cuttings, but it's easier to grow them from seeds.
  • If you choose not to grow them in a planter then plant the seeds in the spring in a warm, light and rich soil.
  • If planting more than one tree, or when planting in rows, make sure they're planted three to four feet apart.
  • Feel free to add protection and markers around the saplings, as needed. Also, keep weeds and grass from growing around the tree when the trees are small.
  • Plant the seeds about an inch down and in light soil, allowing the seedling to push out of through the soil.


Medicinal Uses

When made into a tea the bark of the Southern catalpa tree has been used an antiseptic, supposedly used as a snake bite antidote, treatment for malaria and also for whooping cough. The flowers and pods have been used as a light sedative while the flowers have also been used for treating asthma. Also, because of the antiseptic properties of the tree, the leaves can be used as a poultice for wounds.

Disclaimer: It's best to consult a doctor for treatment of any health issues you may have.

Additional Facts and Information in Relation to the Catalpa Tree: Catalpa Bignonioides and Its Variety Speciosa (Classic Reprint)
Additional Facts and Information in Relation to the Catalpa Tree: Catalpa Bignonioides and Its Variety Speciosa (Classic Reprint)

A reproduction of the 1879 book by E. E. Barney. In it are facts and information about two species of Catalpa trees, Catalpa Bignonioides and Catalpa Speciosa,.


Questions & Answers

  • A catalpa is growing close to my house and might be growing into my drain pipes. If I cut it down how can I kill the stump without pulling it out and endangering my pipes?

    The first thing to do is to cut the stump as close to the ground as you can. Depending on how big the tree is, you should drill anywhere around a dozen or so holes in the stump. The holes should be drilled with a one-inch drill bit and drilled to a depth of around 10 inches.

    Then mix rock salt or Epsom salt with a small amount of warm water and fill the holes with the solution. After doing so, cover the whole stump with a dark tarp or a black trash bag for a few months. Although it is unlikely that any saplings will pop up, it is a good idea to keep on the lookout for them and to remove them if you see them.

© 2014 Ron Noble


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      charles gardner 2 weeks ago

      if its a southern catalpa you might be having a problem due to the colder temps

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      Bill Bromley 3 weeks ago

      Same issue as Bett : I have tried 9 catalpa seeds. They pop up fast and furious , then die at about 3" in height. I have tried migrating to incrementally larger pots and using plant food. I have one that has not grown at all in height for two months but appears to be alive.

      Kind of like the Monty Python Parrot Sketch. Maybe dead , maybe just asleep.

      Planted this in Ontario , Canada in December , but a fair bit of sunlight on the window ledge facing south.

      Frustrating , because I so badly want two or three on my property.

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      Robyn Thornton 7 weeks ago

      Something this article forgot to mention is that a lot of these trees attract a specific type of caterpillars that only eat the leaves of catalpa trees. So don't plant these trees if you don't want a bunch of worms crawling around your yard. They won't hurt you or the tree, but they can defoliate them. They are NOT hurting the tree in any way, and do NOT kill them if they appear!

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      bett 4 months ago

      I have been trying to grow a catalpa tree from seeds. they get about three inches in height then die. what am I doing wrong? I have tried part sun, low sun. I have used last years seeds and done everything that the different web sites have suggested. if anyone can give advise I would be greatful.

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      Pam W. 6 months ago

      I would love to have some seeds from the fisherman tree if someone is interested in selling any.

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      ain't no thing but a chicken wing 8 months ago

      What are some uses you can do with catalpa beans? i have a ton of them but i don't know what to do with them

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      jeannette krane 11 months ago

      Are catalpa trees affected by drought by winter night frost without extra water after October shut off?

      Do I need to hand water during winter?

      Tank you!

      Jeannette Krane