When most other trees have already set seed, northern catalpas put on their show in June. Right now they’re flowering in Pittsburgh.
Northern catalpas (Catalpa speciosa) are not only late to flower but they’re slow to leaf out, retaining that fresh green color of early spring much later than other trees. Their flowers become long bean pods in the fall.
Though native to North America, catalpas were uncommon until landscapers fell in love with them. Their original range was in wet soil along streams, lake shores and swamp margins. Some sources say northern catalpas were limited to a small area near the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.
But their trumpet flowers turned the tide. Landscapers planted varieties that could grow almost anywhere and now they do. Catalpas escaped cultivation and expanded their range across the eastern U.S., from Massachusetts to Kansas, from Wisconsin to South Carolina.
Catalpas are now so successful that they sprout up in waste places and along roadsides, a dramatic success thanks to landscaping.
(photo by Kate St. John)