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Wednesday, Mar. 12, 2014
The odd catalpa treePosted Friday, May 18, 2012, at 3:30 PM
For photo prints, go to www.stevenfoster.com/prints.html Photo by Steven Foster
An additional 12 or 13 species occur in East Asia. They belong to the Bignonia family (Bignoniaceae), which is primarily tropical and subtropical with only a few genera extending into the Northern Hemisphere. Catalpa is an ancient name by which the tree was known among the Cherokee.
The magnificent umbrella-like common,
or Southern, Catalpa
Catalpa bignonioides is a beautiful, small, low-branched tree with a broad spreading crown. Its close cousin, the Northern or hardy catalpa, Catalpa speciosa, is usually a tall narrow tree up to 80 feet tall. What we've seen blooming in the last two weeks is Catalpa speciosa.
When Europeans first came to American shores, Catalpa bignonioides had a limited natural range along river banks from western Florida to central Alabama and Mississippi. Catalpa speciosa occupied a more northern and western range occurring in southern Indiana to Missouri, western Kentucky and Tennessee to eastern Arkansas. Their relatively narrow natural ranges were soon to spread.
In the late 1870s, E. E. Barney and Horatio Hollis Hunnewell, both railroad men, championed the planting of catalpa for production of railroad ties for the treeless plains states.
In 1880, Hunnewell established a 400-acre catalpa plantation near Farlington, Kansas.
The fast-growing trees grew at a rate of 2.4 feet per year. In 1905 they were finally harvested, after 25 years' growth, to make railroad ties and telephone poles.
In 1878, E. E. Barney published a pamphlet Facts and Information in Relation to the Catalpa Tree. Barney promoted the tree for railroad ties, civic beautification, as well as poles and fence posts. He offered a packet of 2500 Catalpa speciosa seeds and his pamphlet for fifty cents.
As the seeds germinate readily without special treatment, Barney's generous offer probably did more to increase catalpas than any other single factor. And that is why we have so many catalpa trees growing throughout out town today -- E. E. Barney's 19th-century marketing of the tree for civic beautification rather than natural seed dispersal.
Steven Foster is a world renowned botanical photographer. He has published many books, including 2 for National Geographic
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