After cherries have faded from their spring bloom, and crabapples too, and even after Memorial Day, Catalpa bignoides is blooming white and tall in temperate areas.
Catalpa bignoides is seen sometimes out of its native area in Georgia and Florida to Mississippi, and it is hardy through most of New England. What is blooming so prominently along the highway? Sometimes it is a weed tree that is left to grow and mature, even at a home.
Catalpa, whose genus includes species from vastly geographically disparate North America, the West Indies, and Eastern Asia, is traditionally considered difficult to place in the landscape. With large leaves, up to ten inches, perhaps the visual gravity of Catalpa is so strong it is difficult to balance. In his encyclopedia, The New York Botanical Garden Illustrated Encyclopdia of Horticulture, T. H. Everett describes Catalpa leaves as having a “distinctly exotic look,” and “apt to be a little too insistent in the landscape picture.” Perhaps it was this insistence that inspired Europeans to bring it back from North America and cultivate it in 1726. Catalpa can have yellow colored leaves as well, if more insistence is desired.