Late in June, this tree caught my eye when I was driving through the town of Prescott, along the St. Lawrence River. What a beauty! I stopped and took a few photographs, and looked it up when I got home. It’s a Northern Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) in full flower.
The Northern Catalpa is native to North America, but its range is limited to the Mississippi valley. It prefers rich, moist soil and part shade as might be found at the edge of a forest. In some areas, it is considered to be mildly invasive, given the right conditions. That doesn’t seem to be the case around here, though it can clearly survive the cold winters of a northern climate.
A few mysteries surround the Northern Catalpa. It’s name is of Native American origin, but its exact meaning is not known. And why is its native range so restricted when it can survive conditions much farther north? Was it once much more widely distributed?
I can’t recall seeing catalpas growing in the area where I grew up, west of Toronto and it doesn’t seem to be widely planted around here. It has much to recommend it. The spring flower display is gorgeous, and appreciated by pollinators, including hummingbirds. The large leaves are attractive too, and provide good cover for nesting birds. And finally, the long bean-like seed pods add interest.
For a lively account about catalpas, see Sue Sweeney’s Monday Garden, linked here.