The Catawba tree, also known as the Catalpa tree, is a softwood deciduous tree that is native to the southern United States. There are two types of Catawba: Northern, a larger tree with white flowers, and Southern, a smaller tree with lavender or purple flowers. The southern variety is used more frequently for landscaping. Catawba trees are often sought out for the larvae of a parasite, the Catawba Sphinx Moth, which is prized as a fish bait.
The Catawba tree has large, heart-shaped leaves and produces long, narrow seedpods that look like giant green beans. The large flowers the tree produces in spring are fragrant and attract bees and butterflies.
Locating Your Catawba Tree
Catawba trees grow in climate zones 4 to 9. The Catawba tree requires full sun and good drainage to grow. When you decide where to place your Catawba, keep in mind that these trees create deep shade and can have problems with seed and flower droppings. Catawba trees are fast growers, adding up to two feet a year.
Catawba Tree Care
Catawba trees are sturdy and don't typically require much pruning or cleanup. You will occasionally need to remove damaged limbs. You'll also need to clean up dropped flowers (in the spring) and dropped seedpods (in late summer).
Catawba trees are very prolific. If you don't want more trees, you'll have to be diligent in removing seedlings. If you do want more trees, transplant them while they're young and vigorous for best results.
Pest or Benefit?
One of the more interesting aspects of the Catawba tree is its primary pest, the Catawba Sphinx Moth. The larvae of this moth appear as large green worms. The larvae are voracious eaters who can eat all of the leaves of an infected tree. While this is not fatal to the tree, it isn't attractive and removes any shade the tree might provide.
So why would people actually want to encourage these pests? The larvae, it turns out, are great for fishing bait. Some Catawba tree owners deliberately infest trees and then harvest the larvae for bait.
If you're not a fisherman, spraying the tree and regularly tilling the soil under the tree's drip line can control the larvae.
You may know it as Catalpa, Catawba, Indian Bean, Cigar Tree or Fish Bait Tree, but chances are if you live in the United States, you have seen this unique tree.
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