Its Scattered Range, Height, and Growth.—Its Flower and Foliage Described.—Occurrence of its Bud and Fall of Leaf.—Its Climate and Thrift.—Its Self-propagating Properties.—Durability and other Properties of its Wood.—Its Seed Described.—Manner of Culture. —A New-England Specimen Described.—The Medicinal Properties of its Bark.—The Poisonous and Medicinal Property of its Flower. —Its Annual Beautifying Productiveness.
This tree, which grows to the height of seventy or eighty feet, and has a diameter of from two to three feet, is found scattered from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the Gulf of Mexico, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It has a very beautiful flower, and large heavy foliage which renders the tree liable to be broken by heavy winds. The leaves are late in appearing in spring, and fall as soon as the first frost comes. The catalpa flourishes where the winters are not too severe, the young trees springing up and thriving from the seed dropped by the old trees. The wood is very much hke the butternut, but withstands the weather better, and takes a very high polish; in some sections the catalpa is worked up into posts, and has been found very lasting and not very sensitive to change of weather. The seeds are contained in a long, slender, round pod; they are folded in a thin, membranous wing, and are fiat and very narrow. If planted in the spring and covered lightly they vegetate very easily, and the young shoots transplant readily. Its bark is of a silvery-gray color, and but lightly furrowed ; the leaves are heart-shaped; the flowers white, and marked with yellow and purple spots. In favorable seasons they are succeeded by capsules, or seed-pods, which closely resemble those of the common cabbage, but on a larger scale.
The first tree of this species planted in New England stands in front of the late residence of Mayor Babcock, in Washington Street, Hartford, in the State of Connecticut. It is of large size, and when in bloom is one mass of sweet-scented, beautiful flowers. It is over eighty years of age.
The wood of the catalpa resembles that of the sycamore, but is susceptible of a much higher polish and has not the reddish tinge, being a grayish white. If the bark be bruised in the spring a very venomous odor is exhaled. In a thesis at the Jefferson Medical College of Philadelphia, the bark of this tree was maintained to be a tonic, and more powerfully antiseptic than that of the Cinchona officinalis. It is a very good and sure antidote for the bites of snakes. The honey collected from the flowers is very poisonous, and produces effects closely allied to the effects of the honey collected from the yellow jasmine. The flowers are also valuable as a remedy for asthma.
It is usually grown from seed, but will readily grow from cuttings. The tree is of very rapid growth until it has reached the height of twenty feet, which it attains usually in about ten years. In free, rich soils the trees continue flowering every year, making a splendid appearance, not only from the large size and lively color of the blossoms, but from the fine pale green of their leaves.