Monday, August 23, 2010

Catalpa Pros and Cons


Catalpa Pros and Cons

When out on a walk I came upon a tree I had not seen before. It had seed pods that looked like elongated green beans. They were over a foot long! The neighbor who owned the tree said it was a catalpa. It produced loads of beautiful flowers in the spring and was very prolific. I was impressed with what seemed like an exotic tree growing so close to home. Was this something I should consider for my own yard? I did some research and found out there are pros and cons to the catalpa, sometimes for exactly the same features.

The pros: The catalpa grows pretty much anywhere with southern and northern varieties. It produces lovely, sweet-smelling flower clusters. It is a good shade tree that grows fast and thrives pretty much in any condition – poor soil, inadequate drainage, drought – a frequent choice for naturalizing. The wood is strong and has an interesting grain and is often used for fence posts. The tree attracts what are called catalpa worms, which are good fishing bait.

The cons: The flowers have a smell that may be overpowering. They also produce pollen that can be extremely irritating to those with respiratory allergies. When the flowers drop it is quite messy. The seeds scatter and plant themselves indiscriminately so it may be hard to control their spread and growth. The worms are actually the larvae of catalpa sphynx moths that can denude the tree.

Quite a mixed bag of characteristics. It makes me think of people, each of us with our own pros and cons both in relating to others and for our own development. We are strong but can be overpowering. We grow fast but we don’t always grow up. We can attract the right things to ourselves but may also crave them to excess.

I think I will pass on planting my own catalpa tree. My yard seems happy and mostly balanced. The catalpa feels like too much of a good thing.

6 comments:

  1. Ferida, You never fail to come up with some fresh topic to write about. I had never heard of this tree either--and loved your comparison of it to people.

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  2. Thanks, Anonymous. I was excited to discover something so different just two blocks from my own backyard. As for nature and people - which is the metaphor?

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  3. What a wonderful commentary! The tree sounds so intriguing, I, too, began to think of planting one. Alas, it seems to have more cons than pros. Luckily, most of the people I know and love have more pros than cons.
    Thank you for a delightful read.

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  4. Loved your comment about people, Claire! Hope we all have those kind in our lives.

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  5. We had a catalpa tree in our back yard as I was growing up. It was just gorgeous in the spring when it bloomed, huge puffs of fragrant white flowers. When their time was over, however, the tree was messy and destroyed my Dad's sense of order in his garden. I loved climbing that tree, nesting in its low branches and watching the birds flutter about. In the late summer, when the "johnny smokers" came out, we would collect them for a purpose that apparently is no longer important, probably because they were there, and we didn't have anything else to do.
    I loved that tree until my dad chopped it down to plant a common red maple. What a loss.

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  6. These trees are truly beautiful. My parents planted this tree next to a concrete walkway that connected the back door of the house to the front gate of an in ground swimming pool. The pool was west, the house was east, a 2nd story deck was north and open yard with grass was south. The tree grew very fast. It reached the roof line and began to shade in summer. The flower aroma drifted through the deck/porch, into the house, down under the deck into the basement and stretched to the pool, all depending on breeze of-course. My take on the fresh scent was obvious and sweet. I was seven years old when the tree was planted, and twelve when my folks cut it down. This was my first protest and realization that I was a tree lover. My mother on the other hand "hate those stupid beans, I pick them up all summer and those woooorms are just, ooh ugh" as my mom would put it. My suggestion, plant one of these when you know what your getting into. They have a face only a mother could love. lol.

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