Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tree of Many Talents

When we moved to Appalachia in 1975, I was amazed at how many plants were the same familiar varieties as the ones I'd left behind in the Pacific Northwest.  But others were new to me.  And many of the trees bloomed profusely. (Very noticeable to someone coming from the Evergreen State and Douglas firs.   Among these new-to-me specimens were the catalpa (or catawba) trees.  Planted for their beautiful flowers and huge, heart-shaped leaves they give deep shade and protection to birds, butterflies and people.  Now they seem to grow wild throughout our region.  Sometimes, they are used in making guitars--tonewood, as it is known.  Their fragrance attacts insects...and people!  A member of the Trumpet Vine family, they grow rather rapidly, and ours are having a bonanza bloom this year. It's as though the tree has donned a wedding dress!
As the flowers recede, it becomes clear as to the origin of the nickname for the catalpa:  cigar tree
When I'd ask about these beautiful trees, the remarks were rather uncomplimentary and recurring:  folks would say they're a very "messy" tree with the long bean-like "fruit" --or cigars, as they are called--"messing up" the yard.  
But the green worms?  That was another story.  The Sphinx moth caterpillars love the catalpa and according to champion fishing-philes make the best fish bait!  So much so that some avid anglers even plant whole orchards of catalpas just to have access to a cache of these dynamite green fishing worms, which apparently bass find irresistible.
I guess we've cleaned off the caterpillars a bit too religiously each year and so now have none!  That's probably a good thing, though, as too good a foothold for the worms results in complete defoliation and over several years could kill the tree.
But this beauty (below) succumbed to weather elements and is no more. 
  Only a stump remains whereupon we've allowed another plant to take hold, replacing the catalpa:  it's a Trumpet Vine. 


  1. Oh my, Elora...what a beautiful flower on the catalpa! I wish we had one! Amazing that they grow so profusely there...I don't know if we have them in this area or not, but I'm going to find out. Seems like I'd remember such a tree if I saw one...

    I love the trumpet vine, too. Seems like every time I see one, there are hummingbirds about.

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