Because of their coarse, rangy look, Northern Catalpas (Catalpa speciosa) are an acquired taste. Though native to the Midwest, they are easily spotted in vacant lots in the city, along the interstate highways and in the exurbs where they were common on former farm properties. They are also known as Western Catalpa or Hardy Catalpa. While it might not be the most beautiful tree in terms of shape and habit, no other large deciduous tree in North America can match the show put on by this tree when it is in bloom. The name “catalpa” originates from the Native Americans. It was formally identified in 1880 where it gained the name “Cigartree” and Indian bean”, although its seeds are not edible. For the pioneer farmers Catalpas were a source of durable wood suitable for fence posts because it resists rot when in contact with soil.
The larvae of the catalpa sphinx moth feeds on the foliage and can defoliate the tree. It is a yellow caterpillar with black markings that resembles the tomato hornworm which is not a small caterpillar. If you are a fisherperson then you should know that this yellow caterpillar is eagerly sought for by early summer anglers, it can catch some serious fish. Harvesting the caterpillars from a 20 foot tree is job only for the young and fearless.