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.