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Catalpa bignonioides (Southern catalpa)
Loughmiller, Campbell and Lynn

Catalpa bignonioides

Catalpa bignonioides Walter

Southern catalpa, Cigar tree, Indian bean

Bignoniaceae (Trumpet-Creeper Family)

Synonym(s): Catalpa catalpa

USDA Symbol: CABI8

USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (I)

The catalpa tree reaches 25-40 ft. in height with an equal or greater spread. Short, crooked branches form a broad, irregular crown. Its heart-shaped leaves have prominent veins and are 612 inches long and half as wide. The petiole is almost as long as the leaf. Deciduous leaves are large, light-green and smooth. The flowers are in clusters of 1020, each blossom on a short stem. They are white, 2-lipped, united at the base, opening into 5 ruffled, petal-like lobes; each flower is about 2 inches across. In the throat there are 2 large yellow spots and several smaller ones, several small purple stripes, and a number of tiny purple spots. Fruit a cigarlike pod.

The name Catalpa is a Muskogean name for the tree, while the specific name refers to a related vine with flowers of similar shape: Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata). Planted as a shade tree and an ornamental for the abundant showy flowers, cigar-like pods, and coarse foliage.


Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Tree
Leaf: Green
Size Class: 36-72 ft.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: White
Bloom Time: May , Jun


USA: AL , AR , AZ , CA , CT , DC , DE , FL , GA , IA , IL , IN , KS , KY , LA , MA , MD , ME , MO , MS , NC , ND , NJ , NY , OH , OK , OR , PA , RI , SC , TN , TX , UT , VA , VT , WV
Native Distribution: Gulf Coast from n. FL to e. MS; widely naturalized elsewhere
Native Habitat: Stream banks; wetlands; low woodlands

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Low
Light Requirement: Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Wet
CaCO3 Tolerance: Medium
Soil Description: Wet to moist soils.
Conditions Comments: Some landowners and designers consider this nearly indestructible tree a nuisance because the leaves smell bad when crushed, flowers litter the ground with decaying petals after a too-brief appearance, and root suckers can create a problem. A particular green & black striped caterpillar can completely defoliate southern catalpa trees, but the trees recover, growing new set of leaves withing a month.


Use Ornamental: The tree is cultivated as an ornamental but has long since escaped cultivation.
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Interesting Foliage: yes


Description: Seeds require no stratification or scarification. Both hardwood and softwood stem cuttings can be used for propagation.
Seed Collection: Capsules split and disperse seed in late winter or early spring. Collect fruits after capsules brown and begin to dry. Insect infestation is likely if left on the tree too long. Dry, cold storage is recommended.
Seed Treatment: Not Available
Commercially Avail: yes

Value to Beneficial Insects

Special Value to Honey Bees

This information was provided by the Pollinator Program at The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

National Wetland Indicator Status

This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1 (Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here for map of regions.

From the National Suppliers Directory

According to the inventory provided by Associate Suppliers, this plant is available at the following locations:

Campbell Family Nursery - Harmony, NC

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is either on display or available from the following:

Nueces River Authority - Uvalde, TX


Bibref 841 - Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants (2006) Burrell, C. C.
Bibref 248 - Texas Wildflowers: A Field Guide (1984) Loughmiller, C. & L. Loughmiller

Search More Titles in Bibliography

Additional resources

USDA: Find Catalpa bignonioides in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Catalpa bignonioides in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Catalpa bignonioides


Record Last Modified: 2010-09-24
Research By: TWC Staff

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