northern catalpa

(Catalpa speciosa)

Conservation Status
northern catalpa
  IUCN Red List

not listed


N4? - Apparently Secure

SNA - Not applicable


not listed

Wetland Indicator Status
  Great Plains

FACU - Facultative upland


FACU - Facultative upland

  Northcentral & Northeast

FACU - Facultative upland


Northern catalpa is a medium-sized, moderately fast-growing, moderately short-lived, deciduous tree rising on a single trunk from a relatively shallow, spreading root system. It can be 50 to 98 tall and up to 48 in diameter at breast height, though in Minnesota it is usually no more than 80 in height and 24 in diameter.

The trunk is relatively stout and usually somewhat crooked but may be straight. The crown is irregular.

The bark on mature trees is reddish-brown, rough, and divided into shallow, irregular furrows and vertical ridges with thick scaly plates.

Young twigs are stout, green, and hairless with scattered white dots (lenticels). Older twigs are reddish-brown. The pith is continuous. The leaf scars are round or shield-shaped and distinctly raised but depressed in the center like a suction cup. They have numerous bundle scars forming an oval.

There are no terminal buds. Lateral buds are small and are covered with dark brown to black scales.

The leaves are deciduous and are arranged in whorls of three. They hang downward on 1½ to 5 long, light green, hairless or mostly hairless leaf stalks (petioles). There are no leaf-like appendages (stipules) at the base of the petiole. The leaf blades are heart-shaped, unlobed, pinnately veined, 5½ to 8¼ long, and 4½ to 6¾ wide. They taper to a long point at the tip with concave sides along the tip. The upper surface is dull, green, and hairless. The lower surface is pale and densely covered with short curly hairs, especially along the veins. The margins are untoothed. In autumn the leaves turn pale yellowish-green and fall before turning yellowish-brown.

The flowers are bisexual, having both male and female parts. They appear when the leaves are fully grown in May to June. The inflorescence is large, showy, 5 to 10 long and wide, branched cluster (panicle) of 10 to 30 flowers at the tips of branches.

Individual flowers are more or less bell shaped, 2 to 2½ long, 1½ to 2 wide, and bilaterally symmetrical. There are 5 sepals, 5 petals, 2 fertile stamens, 3 infertile staminodes, and 1 style. The sepals (calyx) are fused together into a to ½ long tube. The calyx is hairless and tinged with purple. It splits open deeply at maturity into 2 irregular lobes. The petals are fused at the base into a tube about 1 long, then separated into 5 unequal lobes. The lowest lobe is shallowly notched. The petals are bright white with two yellow to orange patches and several brownish-purple dots and lines at the throat. The staminodes are short. The stamens are long but do not protrude from the corolla tube. The style is white with a 2-lobed stigma. The flowers are fragrant but inhaling their aroma may be poisonous to some individuals.

The fruit is an 8 to 16 long, to in diameter, bean-like seedpod containing numerous seeds. The seedpod is narrowly cylindrical, round in cross section, and relatively thick-walled. It is light green at first, turning brown at maturity. The seeds are flat, light brown, 5 16 to long, and to ¼ wide. They have a papery wing and a tuft of long hairs at each end. After the seeds are released the sides of the seedpod (valves) remain concave. The seedpod ripens in the fall and remains on the tree, opening slowly and releasing seeds throughout the winter and spring.




50 to 80




No record for non-native trees


Flower Color


White with yellow and purple markings


Similar Species

  Chinese catalpa (Catalpa ovata) leaves are usually lobed or angled near the middle. The underside is hairless at maturity, sometimes hairy only along the veins when young. The flowers are much smaller, no more than 1 long. The seedpods are relatively thin-walled. It has only been reported in Houston County.  

Moist but well-drained. Alluvial forests in south-central US. Full or partial sun.




May to June


Pests and Diseases


Catalpa sphinx (Ceratomia catalpae) caterpillars can defoliate the tree.


In the 1930s and 1940s northern catalpa was widely planted as a windbreak and cultivated for fence posts in Ohio. It is still sold and planted as a shade tree and ornamental because of its large leaves and showy flowers.


Distribution Map



2, 3, 4, 7, 24, 28, 29, 30.

The map at left includes observations from iNaturalist and from sightings posted by visitors on Both are in light green on the map. At least some of those sightings are in people’s yards, and one is in an arboretum. Those are not outside of cultivation.




Native to Missouri, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Texas. Introduced and cultivated farther north and west. Widely spreading.




Adventive and locally naturalized in Minnesota.

Prior to European settlement the range of northern catalpa had contracted to a small area around the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. It has now become naturalized from Kansas to Virginia north to southern Michigan and southern Wisconsin. Its range continues to spread and now includes almost all states east of the Rocky Mountains. In Minnesota it is not fully established but is locally naturalized. It is hardy up to zone 4, which includes the southern half of the state.


Plantae (green algae and land plants)


Viridiplantae (green plants)


Streptophyta (land plants and green algae)


Embryophyta (land plants)


Tracheophyta (vascular plants)


Spermatophytina (seed plants)


Magnoliopsida (dicots)





Lamiales (mints, plantains, olives, and allies)



Bignoniaceae (bignonia)  
  Tribe Catalpeae  


Catalpa (catalpas)  
  Subgenus Catalpa  

Subordinate Taxa








Common Names





northern catalpa

western catalpa












The group of outer floral leaves (sepals) below the petals, occasionally forming a tube.



A collective name for all of the petals of a flower.



A corky, round or stripe-like, usually raised, pore-like opening in bark that allows for gas exchange.



A pyramidal inflorescence with a main stem and branches. Flowers on the lower, longer branches mature earlier than those on the shorter, upper ones.



On plants: The stalk of a leaf blade or a compound leaf that attaches it to the stem. On ants and wasps: The constricted first one or two segments of the rear part of the body.


Pinnately veined

With the veins arranged like the vanes of a feather; a single prominent midvein extending from the base to the tip and lateral veins originating from several points on each side.



The spongy cells in the center of the stem.



An outer floral leaf, usually green but sometimes colored, at the base of a flower.



The male reproductive organ of a flower consisting of an pollen-producing anther on a supporting filament.



A modified stamen that produces no pollen. It often has no anther. Plural: staminodia.



In plants, the portion of the female part of the flower that is receptive to pollen. In Lepidoptera, an area of specialized scent scales on the forewing of some skippers, hairstreaks, and moths. In Odonata, a thickened, dark or opaque cell near the tip of the wing on the leading edge.



A small, leaf-like, scale-like, glandular, or rarely spiny appendage found at the base of a leaf stalk, usually occurring in pairs and usually dropping soon.

Visitor Photos

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Amy O


sapling growing by my back door.

    northern catalpa   northern catalpa  

Jeremy W.

    northern catalpa      



Northern Catalpa. Freeborn County, MN, June 2017

    northern catalpa      

Northern Catalpa in Owatonna, MN

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Mature tree

    northern catalpa   northern catalpa  

Young tree

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    northern catalpa   northern catalpa  


    northern catalpa   northern catalpa  
    northern catalpa   northern catalpa  

Flowering branch

    northern catalpa   northern catalpa  


    northern catalpa      


    northern catalpa   northern catalpa  


    northern catalpa      


    northern catalpa      


    northern catalpa   northern catalpa  
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Catalpa speciosa
Blake C. Willson
  Catalpa speciosa  



Visitor Videos

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Other Videos
  Trees with Don Leopold - northern catalpa

Published on Nov 4, 2011

  Northern Catalpa - Up and Coming Urban Species

Published on May 9, 2013

Tom Rinzer, Landscape Architect for the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities, discusses uses and characteristics of northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa).

Unless otherwise noted, photos and videos are by Ross Meyer. Music by Dom Terrace.

  How to ID Catalpa speciosa
Laura Deeter

Uploaded on Nov 19, 2008

Short video showing the key identifying characteristics for Catalpa speciosa

  Time lapse Catalpa

Uploaded on Jun 30, 2008

This is a time lapse video showing spring growth of the Northern Catalpa (Indian Cigar tree, other names). These are 2 year old saplings. One photo was taken per day over approx one month.




Visitor Sightings

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Be sure to include a location.
  Amy O

Location: Indiana

sapling growing by my back door.

northern catalpa  
  Jeremy W.

Location: Golden Valley, MN - Hennepin County

northern catalpa  
June, 2017

Location: Freeborn County, MN

northern catalpa  

Location: Owatonna, MN

northern catalpa  






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