z catalpa_speciosa2Catalpa speciosa

Trees: Catalpa

The Shades of Green

z catalpaThe Color: Green

It is all about the color – Green. Green is one of the most alluring colors in nature. Deserts of the Southwest are starved for green, as it gets crowded out by the earth tones of tan, brown and red. Those who live in the Pacific Northwest have a shorter range of colors to enjoy, particularly on rainy and foggy mornings. Residents of the NW, though, are blessed to know the many shades of green. Almost as varied as the types of snow for Eskimos, Portlanders have a range of greens from forest green to chartreuse. The fringes of that range extend close to both yellow and blue, the two primary colors that blend to create green.

On the spectrum end close to yellow is the distinctive color of the Catalpa tree. The “green” of the Catalpa is magic.

We have a back yard Catalpa, which we bought many years ago from Poppybox Gardens, as it was holding a closeout sale. The shape and tone of green seemed to be the perfect accent to our dark green Douglas fir that dominates our hill in the back of the house.


z catalpa-60363_640String bean seed pods

Seed pods that resemble a long string of large peas, the Catalpa seems to have other continent origins, but it is native to the US.  There are two species that have been here for centuries, one with southern and the other northern roots.  Our specimen is from the Northern branch Catalpa speciosa. The native trees all have the bean-like seed pods that have lead the tree to been called the Indian bean tree and the Cigar tree.


z Catawba_1913South Carolinians from 1913

The name Catalpa is believed to be a misinterpretation of the name that the Catawba Indians gave the tree.  The tribe, which were settled in South Carolina before the whites displaced them, used the tree as a tribal totem.  The spelling of the Latin name seems to be due to a translation error on the part of the botanist, Scopoli, who organized the first formal scientific description of the genus. The name of the Indian tribe comes from the Anglicized word Katapu, which means “fork in the river.”  The Native Americans refer to themselves as Ye Iswa, which translates as “river people.”


z Catalpa speciosaGrowing up to 60 feet tall

Growing up to 60 feet, we had to be careful where we planted the tree. The sapling, about 5 feet tall, when we bought the tree, would quickly shade our vegetable garden, unless we carefully chose it’s new home. We selected a spot that afforded the viewers of our yard the pleasure of the chartreuse without endangering the bounty of the vegetable garden.

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