The catalpa, also known as the cigar tree, is very popular in gardens throughout Europe because it is very decorative from spring until late autumn. It is in fact characterized by a beautiful flowering, not to mention that even the fruits are really special, very similar to pods. The leaves, with their magnificent light green color, are also very ornamental due to their size and shape: they are held in high regard for their ability to provide a pleasant shade, that is uniform but not too thick. Standing under its foliage, especially in summer, becomes very comfortable.
Deciduous tree of medium size, native to North America; it has a short, very branched stem and a generally broad and rounded crown; the bark is green-brown, dark, wrinkled; it has a fairly rapid growth, and is very long-lived, very old specimens can reach 8-10 m in height. It has very large leaves, 20-25 cm in diameter, light green on the upper side, lighter and slightly pubescent on the lower side, heart-shaped, wrinkled, with a long petiole. In late spring it produces numerous erect panicles, composed of bell-shaped flowers, white, with orange dots and red, intensely scented streaks; at the end of summer it produces long pods, containing numerous seeds, which remain on the plant throughout the autumn and most of the winter. C. b. aurea has golden-green leaves, C. b. variegata purpurea produces purple-brown leaves, which become green as the weeks go by. To obtain an abundant flowering it is advisable to avoid drastic pruning of the plant.
The cigar tree loves bright and sunny positions, but it develops without problems even in half-shade or full shade; the catalpa they do not fear the cold and generally tolerate even the most rigid or windy winters well.
|planting||October-November / March-April (if in pot)|
|flowering||From May to August (also depending on the variety)|
|fruits||In autumn, but remain until spring (not edible)|
|pruning||From February to April, before the plant begins to vegetate|
it does not need too abundant watering, enduring short periods of drought without problems; in general they are satisfied with the rains and occasional watering, but it is good to supply water in periods of prolonged drought during the spring and summer months; these plants can develop even in very wet gardens, as long as the soil is well drained. At the beginning of spring and at the beginning of autumn it is good to supply the plant with mature organic fertilizer or slow release granular fertilizer.
it happens by seed in spring; always in spring it is possible to practice cuttings, using semi-woody branch portions
Pests and diseases
it can often happen that caterpillars or mincing larvae feed abundantly on the large leaves of the catalpa, generally without causing serious damage to the plant.
Catalpa botanical description and classification
The catalpa is a tree originating mostly from the American continent, although some species are instead endemic to South-East Asia. The genus is composed of about 10 species belonging to the Bignoniaceae family. All are characterized (and therefore highly appreciated) by an extremely vigorous growth: in a few years they can reach their final height, from 3 for dwarf cultivars up to 15 meters.
The catalpa bignonioides, the most widespread as an ornamental tree, comes from the southeastern United States, predominantly from low-altitude woodland habitats, in any case close to watercourses of a certain size. In nature it easily reaches 15 meters in height and its foliage, over time, takes on a beautiful expanded shape. It has deciduous, heart-shaped, slightly hairy leaves. Over time the upper page becomes a beautiful bright green light, while the lower one becomes darker, creating a beautiful contrasting effect. The bark also contributes to the beauty of the whole, thanks to its light gray color and large scales. From mid to late summer it produces panicles of very large bell-shaped flowers (about 5 cm long) white with yellow and purple spots. In autumn they turn into fruit, in the shape of a pod, very large (even up to 40 cm in length!) Which can remain on the cigar tree until the following spring.
Species and cultivars
There catalpa bignonioides it is not the only one to have aroused the interest of botanists. Since the cigar tree was so valued as an ornamental essence, researchers sought new varieties and engaged in interspecific hybridization.
Here are the cultivars that we can find more easily at nurseries, with their peculiar characteristics
Name of the variety
Characteristics of flowers and fruits
Uses and prescriptions
| Light pink flowers with yellow streaks. In the center you can see dark purple spots|
The fruits are hanging green pods
| Mid-sized species, generally up to 8 meters high and 4 wide.|
The hair appears to have a rounded shape with a naturally flattened top.
The leaves are bright light green.
| Excellent for cultivation as an isolated specimen. It can also be used to create a grove of two or more specimens, or combined with other essences ...|
Also ideal for tree-lined avenues.
No pruning needed
Catalpa bignonioides 'Nana'
|Flowering is very rare|| The foliage assumes an extremely rounded shape. Overall, the plant resembles a funny umbrella.|
The final dimensions are 3 m in height and 1.5 m in width
| For small gardens, for small tree-lined avenues and for growing in large pots.|
No pruning needed
Catalpa purple (Catalpa x erubescens 'Purpurea')
|Panicles of bell-shaped white flowers with purple and yellow spots, in late summer.|| Large hybrid. It can reach 15 m in height and the same in width.|
The leaves are born in a beautiful purple shade and then become light green in summer
| Ideal for cultivation as an isolated specimen, but is also excellent for tree-lined avenues or for creating small woods.|
Appreciated for the shadow created by the foliage
|Catalpa bignonioides|| Flowering, between July and August, very abundant. The flowers, bell-shaped and collected in panniculi, are very reminiscent of the bignonie, but white.|
The fruits are reminiscent of vanilla berries
| It reaches large dimensions, always maintaining the characteristic elegant posture. Usually it reaches 15 m in height by 10 in width|
The leaves are very large, heart-shaped, of a nice light green
|Much used as an isolated specimen or for the creation of tree-lined avenues.|
Catalpa bignonioides 'Aurea'
|Cultivar with less abundant flowering, but much appreciated for the foliage|| The leaves are of a beautiful golden color tending to bronze, when young, and then turn to bright yellow.|
The final size is 10 m x 10 m
|Beautiful as an isolated specimen, for small woods or street trees.|
| The flowers, of a beautiful bright yellow with purple spots, are collected in large panels.|
They are produced from May to July, although they are slightly hidden by the leaves
| On average it reaches 10 m in height by 5 in width.|
The foliage is of a beautiful intense green.
|Suitable for medium-small gardens, as an isolated specimen, for small groups or for tree-lined avenues.|
Catalpa speciosa 'Pulverulenta "
|White flowers|| Final dimensions around 10 m x 10|
Beautiful bright light green foliage with small cream spots.
|Suitable for medium-sized gardens, as an isolated specimen, groups or trees.|
|Bell-shaped flowers, pink with purple and yellow spots, in clusters, between May and June|| The foliage takes on a wide column appearance. In cultivation it generally reaches 10 m of height x 10 m of width, even if in nature it is capable of reaching 20 m.|
The leaves are largely ovate, bronzed when young, then glossy green, on the lower side they are slightly hairy.
|Beautiful as an isolated specimen in large gardens and parks. Also suitable for groups or for tree-lined avenues|