Bloom Description: White with purple and yellow interior.
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Suggested Use: Shade Tree
Tolerate: Deer, Drought, Clay Soils, Air Pollution
Native to: Jefferson County
The Northern Catalpa stands out in its native Jefferson County, as it is so texturally different than so many of its fellow trees, and when in bloom it puts on a vivid display. The leaves are very light in color are about 12 inches long and 5 inches across.
The flowers of Northern Catalpa are a true showstopper. The 2-inch long bell-shaped orchid-like flowers are white with a purple and yellow spotted interior down the throat of the flower. The tree produces both pollen and nectar in great quantities from the flowers but from the leaves, making it a draw for all pollinators. The flowers give way to long seed pods which can grow to between 12-20 inches long and turn a dark brown, and for many years the tree was also known as a cigar tree.
When Revolutionary War veteran, James Shane, brought his family to Jefferson County in 1798 he ascended the Wills Creek valley (following present day US 22). When the family set up camp for the night at the head of the two ridges they built a fire beneath the canopy of a Northern Catalpa tree. When the pious Shane called his family to prayer before they dined, wolves began to circle the camp smelling the venison cooking on the fire; however, the wolves never challenged the family in prayer and soon left. James Shane declared it an act of the Lord and continued to hold religious ceremonies beneath the Northern Catalpa tree. Soon a church was erected at the spot, known as the Two Ridge Presbyterian Church, which is still active today. While the Northern Catalpa that Shane and his family took refuse under is long gone, but many of its decedents still remain in the area.
When Rueben Gold Thwaites descended the Ohio River in 1897 he wrote in his book Afloat on the Ohio: An Historical Pilgramage of a Thousand Miles in a Skiff, from Redstone to Cairo “…and here and there a catalpa and a pawpaw giving a touch of tropical luxuriance to the hillside forest.”
Northern Catalpa is a host plant to ten species of butterflies and moths; however, its true importance is as a source of pollen and nectar for hummingbirds, bees, and all pollinators. ■