Southern Catalpa tree identification

The Southern Catalpa Catalpa bignonioides, also known as the Indian Bean Tree, is native to the south-eastern United States in the area that includes Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.  Catalpa is a Native American name for a genus of ten species found in North America, the West Indies and Asia.  All Catalpas have large leaves and long pod-like fruit. The Southern Catalpa was introduced to Britain in 1726 and has been planted widely in parks, gardens and streets in warmer areas as an ornamental tree. There is at least one tree in the grounds of the Palace of Westminster in London. The tree has large showy flowers from mid-summer onwards.

Southern Catalpa tree identification – very large leaves, white flowers on candles and long, thin bean pods which hang through winter.

Southern Catalpa tree

Tree in June

Southern Catalpa leaf

The leaves are very large (15 to 30cm)

Flowers are clustered on broad pyramidical panicles, similar to, but larger than, those found on the Horse Chestnut. Each panicle has from 20 to 40 individual flowers. Photo taken in late July.

Southern Catalpa flower close-up

Close-up of a flower. The tree is pollinated by bees, attracted by the white, scented flowers. The bees land on the lower lip and then follow the yellow stripes and purple dots to reach the nectar source at the base of the flower. On the way in they deposit fresh pollen and on the way pick up more pollen to carry to another flower.

Southern Catalpa flowers and fruit

Pollinated flowers develop into fruits which are in the form of long, thin bean pods. Photo taken at the end of August.

Southern Catalpa bean pods

The pods are green at first, then turn brown when ripe.

Southern Catalpa bean pods in winter

A tree in February still carries long fruit pods.

Southern Catalpa bark

The bark is ridged

There is no terminal bud.

Close-up of the pseudo-terminal buds in January. Buds are usually in 3’s.

Buds are minute and just above a large leaf scar.

The tree in January.