Sunday, May 16, 2010


This morning, before the rain fell, I went down to visit the tall mature Northern Catalpa tree that lives down the lane from my homestead. Right now it is full of thousands of blooms that appear to me like orchids. It's the only Northern Catalpa on my lane and lives naturally among other hardy trees near a small creek. The tree not only brings my admiration for its ability to produce beautiful blooms but also stirs past memories.
As a child there was a street called Catalpa very near my home. It was called Catalpa as these trees lined the street intermittently for a couple miles. They were planted as street trees during the early settlement of the town and now in my youth were reaching about 50 feet or more into the air.

Today, street trees are tiny frail trees compared to the giant hardy trees of my childhood. Then, I remember large elms branching over my street as well as my yard, shading and cooling our environment. They contributed a certain aura of dignity and peace.

However, today when landscapers are plugging new street trees into the soil in front of a house they must be "clean" -- no big seed pods or large amounts of leaves to "litter" the yards. This means no leaf piles for kids to play in, no blaze of color in the fall, less oxygen produced into the air we breath, no cooling breezes or shading, and less habitat for many of those wild critters that need "real" trees.

Change is not always good.


  1. Those flowers are gorgeous! I don't think I've ever seen a Catalpa. I totally agree with you about the crazy ideas about "dirty" trees.

  2. Such beautiful orchid-like blooms. And yes, 'real' trees are infinitely preferable, even with (or because of) their untidy ways!

  3. Thanks for going on beyond remembering and telling us what is happening now -- I haven't thought of that and I imagine I share your feeling about it. Tho' I grew up a little north of the Ohio River, I remember one or two catalpa trees, as tall as a house, but not 50 feet. I thought they were magical for producing those long "beans".

  4. barefootheart, June, and Vicki, -- if only we could save the natural world and have it appreciated by all! Thanks to all of you for your good comments -- barbara

  5. Hi Barbara:

    Good post. I had a brief childhood in suburbia too and remember playing in the huge piles of Red Maple, Elm, and Ash leaves that we raked up in the fall (we lived on Ash Street). You are so right about the modern yard tree. Before moving back to West Virginia 10 years ago, I lived in suburbia in Northern Virginia and the only trees you saw in the new housing developments were the "no mess" type that had very little seasonal interest, wildlife value, or overall utility on the property. In contrast, the older housing developments were dominated by fast growing trees like Silver Maple, Red Maple, etc. Folks planted these trees because of their fast rate of growth and shade.

    Out of curiosity, do the Catalpa trees in your neck of the woods have the Catalpa worm on them in the early summer? They are yellow caterpillar-like worms that we used to use for fish bait. They work really well. I have a few smaller Catalpa trees growing here on the farm that came up on their own, probably because a migratory bird dropped a seed on its way through. I have not seen any worms on my trees, but maybe they are too young.

    It's interesting how your views change over time. At one time, I may not have minded to have those "no mess" trees in my yard. But now, I don't plant anything on the property unless if yields food, fruit, fuel, fiber, or some other important function such as shade or windbreaks. In fact, most of the stuff we plant has to provide as many of these benefits as possible.

  6. Hi Thomas, I have not noticed the yellow Catalpa caterpillars that you talk about in your comment. The Catalpa I visited in my post is down the lane and therefore not available for observation on a day by day basis. But, I will keep my eyes open for the caterpillars. Are they harmless to the trees? Actually the tree is not on my property, yet it observable from the dirt lane that goes up to my house.

    I like your thinking on what you plant on your property -- for food, fruit, fuel, and fiber. It leans a bit toward my action plan that I am in the beginning stage of implementing on my property -- a little bit of a twist from yours though. I have about two acres in pasture that I have brush-hogged twice a year. I have decided to let the land return to its natural woodland state. I will enjoy observing the transition. A non-fiction book I read years ago, Inland Island, influenced my thinking. The book is basically about a couple that decided to let their property return to its natural state.

    I hope to write about this "return to woods" in some of my posts.

    Thomas, your posts and comments are always thoughtful! -- barbara

  7. Hi Barbara:

    I found this good explanation of the Catalpa worm at:

    "The catalpa trees are the only host for the catalpa sphinx moth. This moth larva - known as the catalpa worm -- devours the leaves of the tree and often completely defoliates the tree, as shown here. Defoliated catalpas produce new leaves readily and trees usually refoliate promptly. Adult moths first appear in March to April and deposit eggs ranging from 100 to 1,000 on the underside of the leaves. Eggs hatch in 5-7 days and young larvae feed together as leaf skeletonizers until they are about three inches long. They then drop to the ground."

    As a kid, we used to use the worms for fish bait, and they were better, more plentiful, and easier to catch than earthworms.

  8. Hi Thomas,

    Went to your mentioned link and learned more about Catalpa trees. This little Catalpa worm sure plays an important role in fishing bait. Very interesting that they defoliate a tree and the tree immediately grows a new crop of leaves.

    I was especially interested in that the worms become Spinx moths. Looked up Catalpa Spinx moths in KY. They are rather a dull beige-- gray. I am gong to be on the lookout for them. They will tell me that worms are probably in the Catalpa tree down the lane.

    Thanks for all the good info -- barbara