My Favorite Trees in Denver – Western Catalpa
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Catalpa
The Western Catalpa is part of the Bignoniaceae family which is known for its showy flowers. Being from the South, I remember walking in a Washington Park on a nice early summer day about 25 years ago and noticing large trees covered in white flowers. I had never seen trees of that size covered with so many flowers. They were stunningly beautiful and smelled good. I was walking toward one of these trees to check it out when a big gust of wind hit the tree hard stripping it of its flowers. The air exploded in white petals. It was an amazing sight not to be forgotten.
Catalpa trees grow up to 70 feet tall with trunks 3.5 feet across. To a kid named Jack with an imagination, these trees are huge and with their bean pods look like the base of a giant bean stalk reaching up to the sky.
The tree grows fast. In the fall, the catalpa trees are covered with long bean pods. A home owner on the east side of Washington Park planted six saplings in 1998. In about fifteen years, these twigs trees are now over 20 feet tall with 8-10 inch thick trunks.
What is great about the western catalpa is they grow well in Denver. The need little water and grow in alkaline clay soils. Tree insect infestations and diseases are not a major concern with this species. The only negatives are they have brittle branches and produce mountains of seed pods in the fall. Pruning the trees back to their strong branches will reduce branch breakage. Kids in the neighborhood using the pods as spears and swords which will reduce the bean pod clean-up a bit. Seed pod clean up is just part of having catalpa trees in the yard.