Forest 96 - Southern Catalpa

Catalpa bignonioides

Catalpa flowers on tree near Rex Hotel in Canberra. Photo by L Hawkes Catalpa tree near Rex Hotel in Canberra. Photo by L Hawkes

Other common names

Indian bean tree.

Origin of the species name

Catalpa is from the indigenous name for the bean tree; bignonioides is the Latin form meaning it is like a species in the genus Bignonia.



Date planted

June 2011


It is relatively long lived for a fast growing tree, with some trees reaching maximum height in 25 years but living more than 50 years. Several trees in Europe are well over 100 years old.

General description

This is a medium-sized deciduous tree with a broad, irregular-shaped crown and a short thick trunk with brown to grey bark which develops hard ridges. The leaves are large and heart shaped. The white flowers are tubular and spotted inside and grow in clusters of 20-40. The fruit is a long, thin bean-like pod up to 20-40 cm long and often stays attached to the tree during winter. Height 15m Spread 15m.

Natural distribution and habitat

The species is native to the southeastern United States where it grows in rich moist soils by the sides of streams and rivers.

Conservation status

It is not a threatened species.

Planting pattern

Planted in a regular square grid pattern with a wide curved corridor across the centre and a small straight pathway across a corner.


The timber is rot-resistant so was used for fence posts, furniture making and the interior trim in houses. A tea was made from the bark and used as an antiseptic, antidote to snake bites, laxative, sedative and vermifuge. It was also used to treat asthma and spasmodic coughs in children.

Further reading

Palmer, C (2008) Trees and Forests of North America. Abrams.