Fantastic Design Plant: Retreat to Hardy Catalpa's Shade

Bold and beautiful, hardy catalpa requires a large commitment of energy and space to preserve, but the payoff is worth it. Large, fragrant flowers cover the tree in early summer, and the large heart-shaped leaves provide compact, cooling color. Winter interest? You’ve made it : Long brown pods cling to the branches and also look like multiple exclamation points from a shape of heavy branches. On top of that, this tree that is is tolerant of air pollution, a problem solver, flood and drought.

Jocelyn H. Chilvers

Botanical name: Catalpa speciosa
Common names: Hardy catalpa, Western catalpa, Northern catalpa, cigar tree
(Southern Catalpa, native to the southeastern U.S., is Catalpa bignoides)
Origin: Native to the midwestern United States
Where it’ll grow: Hardy to -30 degrees Fahrenheit (USDA climate zones 4 to 8). Find your zone
Elevation range: To 7,000 feet
Water requirement: Moderate, but the plant is extremely elastic
Light requirement: Full sun to partial shade
Mature dimension: 40 to 60 feet tall and 30 to 50 feet wide
Benefits and tolerances: Showy blossoms, foliage and seedpods; adaptable to a wide variety of soil types and moisture availability
Seasonal interest: blossoms in late May or June, followed by 8- to – 20-inch-long, bean-like seedpods that ripen to darkish brown and persist throughout winter. No fall foliage colour.
When to plant: Spring to fall

Jocelyn H. Chilvers

Jocelyn H. Chilvers

Distinguishing attributes. Hardy catalpa includes a tall, narrow form that broadens with age and is quite coarse. The timber is somewhat brittle and might suffer storm damage.

White bell-shaped blossoms, about two inches long, have ruffled edges and throats colored with yellow stripes and purple dots. The flowers appear in large clusters (panicles) that enhance their visual impact.

Jocelyn H. Chilvers

Extremely large (6- to 12-inch-long) vibrant green foliage can suffer harm and eventually become tattered from high winds and hail.

Jocelyn H. Chilvers

The bark is thick and intensely furrowed, adding to the overall rough texture of the tree.

Kingfisher Landscape

How to utilize it. This photograph is a good case of hardy catalpa used in a large scale landscape setting (notice the green “bean” pods) with large masses of perennials.

Flowering shrubs, small evergreens and ornamental grasses with low to moderate moisture demands would all be suitable companion plants. Think lilacs (Syringa spp), viburnums (Viburnum spp), spirea (Spirea spp), dwarf blue spruce (Picea pungens ‘R.H. Montgomery’), peonies (Paeonia spp), tall stonecrop (Sedum spectabile), black-eyed Susan (Rudbekia spp) and lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis).

As always, when the tree matures, the light quality around its base will change, and a new plant palette will be needed.

Jocelyn H. Chilvers

Planting notes. Hardy catalpa requires lots of room to develop, so it’s ideal to locate it on a large property. It’s extremely adaptable and will withstand high alkaline soils, heavy clay and wet, moist or dry soils. This is a good tree for tough growing conditions, even places that are prone to occasional flooding or are hot and dry. Plant it in full sun.

Hardy catalpa requires routine maintenance; you will need to clear off spent flower debris from the summer, leaves in autumn and seedpods in late winter.

Regrettably, hardy catalpa might be curable in the right growing conditions, so make certain to look at your area prior to planting.

Fun fact: The wood from this tree has a gorgeous grain and is used for furniture, interior cabinetry and trim.

See related