Catalpa bignonioides, Indian Bean Tree, 120/023
I spotted this fairly young catalpa in Albany Road, Chorlton, Manchester. The tree is native to the eastern half of United States, and actually has nothing to do with India. Its official spelling is also a misnomer. The botanist who first described it, Giovanni Scopoli, presided over a mistranscription of the spelling of the Native American Indian tribe, the Catawba, whose totem the tree was, and after whom he wanted to name it. A larger specimen than the one in the photo above can be seen near the Old Broadway entrance to Fog Lane Park in Didsbury. Four young catalpas have been planted in front of recently refurbished flats at the corner of Whitelow Road and High Lane in Chorlton.
The Indian bean tree was introduced to Britain in 1726 and has been planted widely ever since for its decorative and shade-giving appeal. The oldest known Catalpa bignonioides in Britain is in the Minster graveyard of St. Mary the Virgin, Reading, Berkshire. The twisted trunk is one of the major attractions of this 150-year-old tree, although the deteriorating health of this specimen led to its requiring extensive surgery in 2007. The largest living catalpa is in the grounds of the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing and was planted in the year of the capitol’s dedication, 1879.
The tree’s large, attractive heart-shaped leaves do not emerge until late June and continue to do so right through until September, when some are inevitably killed off by early frost. The leaves then fall without gaining any autumn colour. The tree usually comes into blossom in the middle of July with white flowers that have yellow and purple flecks. The flowers are produced in large clusters and can be so numerous as to obscure the leaves of the tree altogether. The catalpa is a genus of flowering plants in the Bignoniaceae, the trumpet vine family, native to North America, the Caribbean, and East Asia. They’re mostly deciduous trees that typically grow 12-18 meters (39-59 ft) tall and 6-12 meters (20-39 ft) wide. A 10-year-old sapling will stand about 6 meters (20 ft) tall.
The catalpa’s bean-like pods are very slim and almost perfectly cylindrical and can grow up to 16 inches in length. These pods contain winged seeds and remain on the tree throughout the winter before splitting and releasing the seeds.
Sheets from the Grindon Herbarium: