En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
1 rating

Wednesday - May 23, 2007

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Trees
Title: Caterpillars on catalpa trees and hardiness of catalpas
Answered by: Damon Waitt


A volunteer catalpa tree has recently popped up near the edge of our swimming pool. The foliage is lovely, so I'm considering allowing it to stay. This one has already proven to be a fast grower . . . but how do they do long term. Do they really get covered in worms all summer?


There are two species of Catalpa in North America, Catalpa speciosa (northern catalpa) and Catalpa bignonioides (southern catalpa). Northern catalpa is a 75-100 ft., deciduous tree with a narrow, oval crown. Southern catalpa reaches 25-40 ft. in height with an equal or greater spread. Both species are fast growing and relatively short-lived. Either species may become weedy or invasive in some regions or habitats. Larva of the catalpa sphinx caterpillar (Ceratomia catalpae) eat the leaves and complete defoliation may occur in some years.

The biggest management problem with catalpa used as an ornamental is litter. They will drop a heavy load of flowers in the spring, then leaves in the fall and finally a lot of large seedpods in the winter. In other words, you will be spending a lot of time cleaning your pool.

For all these reasons, many people (Mr. Smarty Plants included) consider this nearly indestructible tree to be a bit of a nuisance despite its large showy flowers and tropical foliage.

Read this USDA Plant Fact Sheet to learn more about Catalpa.

Catalpa bignonioides

Catalpa speciosa





More Trees Questions

Cause of chlorosis on dogwood
July 23, 2007 - Help!! I have been gone for three days, when I came home and looked out my back door I discovered that one of my huge dogwoods was turning yellow. We have had more than our share of rain this year and...
view the full question and answer

Soils for Acacia greggii and Bauhinia lunarioides
May 02, 2007 - What kind of soil do you recommend for anacacia tree? I was stunned by the one blooming at Center. I have had one for years and it has not been happy. I figure it must be the soil.
view the full question and answer

White ash trees with bunched up leaves from Nevada TX
June 09, 2012 - I have very young white ash trees (3' tall planted this winter) The leaves are crippled not opening up bunched up together and have a white powder. Is this aphids mites or what. Only on one tree. Th...
view the full question and answer

Live oak sprouts in Austin
August 01, 2010 - How can I control the hundreds of live oak sprouts our lovely trees are throwing off? We recently landscaped with rain gardens and the related drainage ditches; they are filled with these very happy ...
view the full question and answer

Plants for shade under pine trees in Grapevine TX
May 16, 2010 - What plants are good to put under pine trees in the shade? I live in the Dallas Fort Worth area? The previous owners stuck a Japanese Maple in there that seems to be ok and some sort of holly bush (n...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center