Cigar tree - Catalpa bignonioides


The catalpa, also known as the cigar tree, is very popular in gardens throughout Europe because it is very decorative from spring until late autumn. It is in fact characterized by a beautiful flowering, not to mention that even the fruits are really special, very similar to pods. The leaves, with their magnificent light green color, are also very ornamental due to their size and shape: they are held in high regard for their ability to provide a pleasant shade, that is uniform but not too thick. Standing under its foliage, especially in summer, becomes very comfortable.
Deciduous tree of medium size, native to North America; it has a short, very branched stem and a generally broad and rounded crown; the bark is green-brown, dark, wrinkled; it has a fairly rapid growth, and is very long-lived, very old specimens can reach 8-10 m in height. It has very large leaves, 20-25 cm in diameter, light green on the upper side, lighter and slightly pubescent on the lower side, heart-shaped, wrinkled, with a long petiole. In late spring it produces numerous erect panicles, composed of bell-shaped flowers, white, with orange dots and red, intensely scented streaks; at the end of summer it produces long pods, containing numerous seeds, which remain on the plant throughout the autumn and most of the winter. C. b. aurea has golden-green leaves, C. b. variegata purpurea produces purple-brown leaves, which become green as the weeks go by. To obtain an abundant flowering it is advisable to avoid drastic pruning of the plant.


The cigar tree loves bright and sunny positions, but it develops without problems even in half-shade or full shade; the catalpa they do not fear the cold and generally tolerate even the most rigid or windy winters well.

planting October-November / March-April (if in pot)
flowering From May to August (also depending on the variety)
fruits In autumn, but remain until spring (not edible)
pruning From February to April, before the plant begins to vegetate


it does not need too abundant watering, enduring short periods of drought without problems; in general they are satisfied with the rains and occasional watering, but it is good to supply water in periods of prolonged drought during the spring and summer months; these plants can develop even in very wet gardens, as long as the soil is well drained. At the beginning of spring and at the beginning of autumn it is good to supply the plant with mature organic fertilizer or slow release granular fertilizer.


it happens by seed in spring; always in spring it is possible to practice cuttings, using semi-woody branch portions

Pests and diseases

it can often happen that caterpillars or mincing larvae feed abundantly on the large leaves of the catalpa, generally without causing serious damage to the plant.

Catalpa botanical description and classification

The catalpa is a tree originating mostly from the American continent, although some species are instead endemic to South-East Asia. The genus is composed of about 10 species belonging to the Bignoniaceae family. All are characterized (and therefore highly appreciated) by an extremely vigorous growth: in a few years they can reach their final height, from 3 for dwarf cultivars up to 15 meters.
The catalpa bignonioides, the most widespread as an ornamental tree, comes from the southeastern United States, predominantly from low-altitude woodland habitats, in any case close to watercourses of a certain size. In nature it easily reaches 15 meters in height and its foliage, over time, takes on a beautiful expanded shape. It has deciduous, heart-shaped, slightly hairy leaves. Over time the upper page becomes a beautiful bright green light, while the lower one becomes darker, creating a beautiful contrasting effect. The bark also contributes to the beauty of the whole, thanks to its light gray color and large scales. From mid to late summer it produces panicles of very large bell-shaped flowers (about 5 cm long) white with yellow and purple spots. In autumn they turn into fruit, in the shape of a pod, very large (even up to 40 cm in length!) Which can remain on the cigar tree until the following spring.

Species and cultivars

There catalpa bignonioides it is not the only one to have aroused the interest of botanists. Since the cigar tree was so valued as an ornamental essence, researchers sought new varieties and engaged in interspecific hybridization.
Here are the cultivars that we can find more easily at nurseries, with their peculiar characteristics


The cultivation of the catalpa is very simple: it adapts well both to a fully sunny exposure and to the partial shade


It is not particularly demanding regarding the terrain. It lives well in almost all soils, especially those capable of always keeping themselves slightly moist, but at the same time providing excellent drainage. The only drawback in which they can come across is in fact the root rot or in any case affections affecting the hypogeum apparatus. It is therefore extremely important, at the time of planting, to dedicate oneself to the creation of an excellent and often draining layer.


It is a plant suitable for the whole of our peninsula. It does not fear the rigid temperatures at all (it is able to withstand temperatures well below -15 ° C) and can therefore be planted with tranquility even up to 1000 meters of altitude with the sole precaution of mulching the roots well during the first winter.


The ideal time to plant a catalpa is undoubtedly the autumn: until spring it will have time to explore the soil with its roots and it will then be ready to leave immediately with its vigorous growth.
It is generally sold in pots or with a small earthen bread retained by a net. A deep and at least 80 cm wide hole will be created. On the bottom a drainage layer of at least 6 cm thick will be created with gravel. We then insert a good quantity of mature manure and, after a layer of separation of earth to safeguard the roots, our plant. Let's block it with the soil and press well. Let us water abundantly.
If we live in a particularly windy area it can be useful at the time of implantation and at the same depth insert a brace of at least 5 cm in diameter, fixing it well. We will then tie the trunk in different places. We can remove it when the plant is well rooted and stable (generally from the second year on from the plant).


As we have seen in the diagram it is not always necessary to resort to pruning. Some cultivars and species autonomously reach their final form and absolutely do not need any kind of human intervention.
The varieties that instead have an erect habit can sometimes need to be regulated. The best time for this processing is undoubtedly the end of winter, before the plant begins to vegetate.
To keep the natural shape, let's just select the best branches, cutting instead those that appear to be weak, crooked or misdirected. Even those who are dead or sick are clearly eliminated.
If instead we want a more bushy hair, contained, but still very compact, we will have to intervene all the springs leaving only two or three buds from the base of the branch.

Cigar tree - Catalpa bignonioides: Pests and diseases

Catalpa is rarely affected by diseases.
However, the most frequent are oidium and verticillosis.
The former can be easily stemmed if action is taken immediately, distributing sulfur-based products as a prevention, in particular in spring when short rains are followed by sunny days, with high humidity and temperatures around 20 ° C.
Unfortunately, verticillosis can only be prevented by avoiding excessive irrigation and creating a good draining layer.
A rather common problem in catalpas is chlorosis: it can be prevented by trying to lower the pH of the soil by using iron sulfate. In more serious cases, chelated iron products can be administered by the end of winter, preferably before the plant begins to vegetate.
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Name of the variety

Characteristics of flowers and fruits

Tree characteristics

Uses and prescriptions

Catalpa bungei
Light pink flowers with yellow streaks. In the center you can see dark purple spots
The fruits are hanging green pods
Mid-sized species, generally up to 8 meters high and 4 wide.
The hair appears to have a rounded shape with a naturally flattened top.
The leaves are bright light green.
Excellent for cultivation as an isolated specimen. It can also be used to create a grove of two or more specimens, or combined with other essences ...
Also ideal for tree-lined avenues.
No pruning needed

Catalpa bignonioides 'Nana'
Flowering is very rare The foliage assumes an extremely rounded shape. Overall, the plant resembles a funny umbrella.
The final dimensions are 3 m in height and 1.5 m in width
For small gardens, for small tree-lined avenues and for growing in large pots.
No pruning needed

Catalpa purple (Catalpa x erubescens 'Purpurea')
Panicles of bell-shaped white flowers with purple and yellow spots, in late summer. Large hybrid. It can reach 15 m in height and the same in width.
The leaves are born in a beautiful purple shade and then become light green in summer
Ideal for cultivation as an isolated specimen, but is also excellent for tree-lined avenues or for creating small woods.
Appreciated for the shadow created by the foliage
Catalpa bignonioides Flowering, between July and August, very abundant. The flowers, bell-shaped and collected in panniculi, are very reminiscent of the bignonie, but white.
The fruits are reminiscent of vanilla berries
It reaches large dimensions, always maintaining the characteristic elegant posture. Usually it reaches 15 m in height by 10 in width
The leaves are very large, heart-shaped, of a nice light green
Much used as an isolated specimen or for the creation of tree-lined avenues.

Catalpa bignonioides 'Aurea'
Cultivar with less abundant flowering, but much appreciated for the foliage The leaves are of a beautiful golden color tending to bronze, when young, and then turn to bright yellow.
The final size is 10 m x 10 m
Beautiful as an isolated specimen, for small woods or street trees.

Catalpa ovata
The flowers, of a beautiful bright yellow with purple spots, are collected in large panels.
They are produced from May to July, although they are slightly hidden by the leaves
On average it reaches 10 m in height by 5 in width.
The foliage is of a beautiful intense green.
Suitable for medium-small gardens, as an isolated specimen, for small groups or for tree-lined avenues.

Catalpa speciosa 'Pulverulenta "
White flowers Final dimensions around 10 m x 10
Beautiful bright light green foliage with small cream spots.
Suitable for medium-sized gardens, as an isolated specimen, groups or trees.

Catalpa fargesii
(Chinese catalpa)
Bell-shaped flowers, pink with purple and yellow spots, in clusters, between May and June The foliage takes on a wide column appearance. In cultivation it generally reaches 10 m of height x 10 m of width, even if in nature it is capable of reaching 20 m.
The leaves are largely ovate, bronzed when young, then glossy green, on the lower side they are slightly hairy.
Beautiful as an isolated specimen in large gardens and parks. Also suitable for groups or for tree-lined avenues