Monday, September 25, 2023
HomeBonsaiLoopy for Catalpa! Bonsai prospects for an uncommon North American native

Loopy for Catalpa! Bonsai prospects for an uncommon North American native

         In case you’re accustomed to the northern
catalpa, Catalpa speciosa, then you realize it is a fairly unusual tree
and definitely not one which you’d count on for use for
Possibly it is a idiot’s errand for me to aim to tame a tree with 12″ leaves
and 20″ seed pods, nonetheless one thing about that staccato, memorable title has
bought me captivated. I have been observing specimen of it in all places I’m going round
Columbus because it is likely one of the extra simply identifiable naive bushes round –
a lot so, I’ve even bought my girlfriend shouting “Catalpa!” each time we
go one. From this basis, primary identification expertise had led me to
observe the species extra intimately. As with all unknown species, the extra
eventualities you observe a specimen, the extra you’ll be able to observe its potential for
bonsai. Within the case of the catalpa, observations of a full-sized specimen,
the seeding frequency of seeded, the quick progress of these volunteers, and
the invention of 1 naturally stunted catalpa all inform my plans to
experiment with this species for bonsai.


Catalpa is able to producing a wide range of leaf sizes. The left-most
leaf is typical for a wholesome catalpa, whereas the correct leaves are from a
naturally stunted catalpa.

Here’s a middle-aged catalpa exhibiting solely a fraction of its potential

Catalpa speciosa
 goes by many widespread names, nevertheless it has unmistakable traits
wherever you reside. 
Catalpa are broadleaf deciduous bushes that may develop to immense dimension
as panorama bushes. The first traits for identification (see
footage beneath) are their massive heart-shaped leaves, white flowers which
seem in late spring, and huge seed pods which ripen and start dropping
seeds in direction of the tip of summer season. The unripe seed pods jogged my memory of inexperienced
beans, nonetheless, as they ripen, they flip brown and crack open. As soon as opened,
1000’s of white seeds can fall out and disperse from a single tree. In
addition, bark seems gray-brown with mild brown spots on the younger
specimen or younger branches and it matures right into a fissured and flakey bark
with a light-dark colour.

            Different widespread names for Catalpa speciosa embrace the western catalpa (as a result of latest growth of its native
vary west of the Rockies), hardy catalpa, cigar tree (as a result of lengthy brown
seedpods), and bait or caterpillar tree (as a result of catalpa moth
caterpillar, Ceratomia catalpae, whose larvae is collected
on this tree by fisherman).

The outstanding white and purple flowers assist quite a few pollinators
together with bees, flies, and hummingbirds.

Right here you’ll be able to see the flower clusters from a extra zoomed-out

The primary crop of catalpa seeds – the one ones in attain on the
pictured tree.

Fortunately every pod has a bounty of seeds for us! This must be
loads for my functions, and I will even have additional if anybody is loopy
sufficient to hitch me in utilizing this species.

Mature bark and flowers.
On this younger catalpa clump rising in an unused patch of damaged
sidewalk, you’ll be able to see the immature bark.

A. Catalpa seeds prolifically and grows rapidly

        I’ve already emphasised the frequency with which I see this
species volunteered in yards, alleys, and alongside sidewalks of Columbus, however
what we have now not but mentioned is the pace at which catalpa can develop. These
seedlings take off in even probably the most adversarial city situations wherever they
can discover a little bit of soil and lightweight. As soon as established, the massive leaf phenotype
turns into obvious from a younger age, enabling them to develop at a tempo of 1-2
toes per 12 months and quickly thicken their trunks (all these sugars have gotten to
go someplace!). In open rising environments, this will translate to bushes
growing 1-inch diameter trunks within the first 2-3 years!

Right here is one pattern Catalpa volunteer. ~3 toes tall. On the correct of
Buck is a 1 foot tall, 1st 12 months seedling as nicely.

You possibly can see by years 2-3, catalpa seedlings have already got leaves the
similar dimension as their mature dad and mom.

B. Catalpas can dramatically scale back leaf dimension… in the correct

            I promised a pure catalpa bonsai and right here it’s in
all her glory! This can be a good instance of an un-collectible
“yamadori” or “urbandori” – if a tree popping out of a tiny gap in
cement stairs may be parallel to a mighty mountain tree caught atop a
granite crack. At any fee, this tree might be at the least 2-3 years
outdated on condition that the trunk thickness is a lot better than the 1-year-old
seedlings I’ve seen. Within the first image beneath, you’ll be able to see it’s
already beginning to develop a touch of taper! As well as, the bottom
leaves and branches are very small – some as small as my thumb and
some even smaller, though it stays to be seen what these tiny
leaves will do in the remainder of the rising season or whether or not these are
new leaves. That stated – by really feel and look – they appear to already
be hardened off with a waxy cuticle. Within the second image beneath,
these leaves to the leaf from a full-sized catalpa tree. Though the
leaves get bigger on the highest of this crack catalpa, in whole this tree
continues to be lower than the peak of the full-sized leaf, and the biggest
leaf on this stunted catalpa continues to be 1/3-1/2 the scale of the
un-stunted leaf and the common leaf on the stunted tree is even
smaller. Some part of the small tree’s situation has dramatically
modified its phenotype, whether or not from having confined root-space or
restricted water or nutrient entry as a result of awkward rising place.
These conditions may definitely be emulated and examined in a bonsai
pot to attempt to duplicate this stunted model of the large tree.

Crack-grown catalpa with minuscule decrease leaves and a touch of
trunk taper.

Right here you’ll be able to see this crack-grown catalpa is lower than the peak
of 1 full-sized leaf from a full-sized catalpa.

One other view of the decrease leaves and shoots.

C. Catalpas reply to pruning with dependable backbudding

            My subsequent favorable statement for utilizing
catalpa as bonsai stems once more from the stunted tree. It had a lifeless prime –
from what, I am undecided – however in response to this lifeless prime, quite a few
younger shoots emerged down beneath that are all wholesome and on their method
to changing into hardened off branches. This can be a promising and primary
attribute to look at when trying into any new species for bonsai
as a result of a species that doesn’t backbud nicely can solely depend on extra
technically troublesome/inconvenient strategies to rebuild branches similar to

I counted at the least 5 decrease branches which activated into rising
in response to the loss of life of the highest. That must be loads to
select from for bonsai growers!

D. Catalpa deadwood is sturdy

            This isn’t a attribute I’ve
examined for myself but, nonetheless, from my studying, I discovered that
traditionally catalpa’s wooden was helpful for fence posts and railroad ties
as a result of its pure resistance to rot. This led to many farmers within the
Ohio space planting it and it may additionally result in sturdy carving for
bonsai artists.

A 120-year-old catalpa from Lincoln, MA reveals distinctive twists,
callouses, and deadwood scars. (Supply)

            Even when catalpa can be utilized for bonsai, each species
has its benefits and downsides. It’s too early to definitively
state these with out testing this species’ conduct in a bonsai pot
over a few years of repeated work, however two points I am apprehensive of
in the mean time are as follows.

A. Brittle branches

My studying into this species additionally knowledgeable me that it generally has
branches that break throughout wind, snow, and ice storms. That is of
main concern to owners who plant these bushes close by, nonetheless, it
is an excellent larger concern to bonsai artists who need to fashion their
bushes through wiring! We should wire early, or wire very cautiously
and gently…

A catalpa with a freshly damaged department in early winter.

B. Attainable poor ramification

            One other potential drawback of this species as
bonsai is that ramification of full-sized bushes doesn’t assist the
thought {that a} bonsai of it might be as dense as our typical Japanese
maple. It stays to be seen when the full-force of bonsai
miniaturization strategies are carried out what the impact on department
density and ramification shall be, nonetheless, worst case situation we will
get pleasure from them with out such density as we do for magnolias and different
species with redeeming qualities that outweigh those who we can’t

A typical department from a mature catalpa. Admittedly a few of the
leaf attachment factors (and subsequently buds) are fairly shut
collectively on the decrease department. This leaves me optimistic about
activating department/leaf density and ramification.

            It is now been 4
years since I final shared an evaluation of a brand new species which I’ve
noticed, (final time, the
Antelope Bitterbrush). A lot has modified in my life and bonsai expertise since then, however my
love and curiosity for nature have been unchanged. The behavior of
observing the crops round me mixed with making use of that info
in bonsai has since given me extra of a longtime framework for analyzing new species once I journey. In
this case, I already know catalpa shall be a problem to make right into a
convincing bonsai, however to date it has sufficient redeeming qualities to be an
fascinating topic to aim. To not point out the benefit of discovering this
species regionally will present loads of follow materials each
rising from seed/younger volunteers and for bigger, uncared for volunteers which may have
a head-start on
 I will report again on my success with this species in a couple of years’
time. I could discover out that they’re a waste of time for bonsai! However the
scientist in me (or possibly the unconscious ouija board inside me) has a
good feeling about
experimenting on this one. Not each new species will share the identical traits of
the Japanese species that bonsai artists world wide use so
extensively, nonetheless, I discovered from my time at
Elandan Gardens
that discovering what there’s to like in our
native bushes
places us extra in tune with the crops and ecosystems round us. Even when
I am the one bonsai artist who finally ends up rising catalpa, you’ll be able to by no means
know for certain when having such foolish open-mindedness in bonsai may pay
off with out working the

  1. My outdated electronic mail e-newsletter subscription service has been retired, so I
    have migrated to This may enable my sporadic new posts on tasks referring to the
    PSBA and CBS bonsai golf equipment, my very own bonsai assortment, Elandan Backyard’s
    assortment, and helpful bonsai inspiration to achieve your inbox. This
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    1.  In case you already have been a subscriber to obtain new posts through
      electronic mail, particularly if this publish reaches your inbox efficiently. If
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  2. As all the time, submit your bushes for critique or recommendation right here. I would like new bushes for the subsequent Bonsai Buds episode! This shall be my
    subsequent venture.
  3. Seeds and bonsai information on the market! Catalpa shall be added to my Etsy record later this winter, and a few others… 
  4. If anybody desires/wants somebody to speak concerning the vaccine, be happy
    electronic mail me. By day I’m a microbiologist engaged on vaccine growth &
    I’ve had the vaccine for a number of months now, as have a lot of my
    family and friends. In fact, I encourage you all to speak along with your
    docs about this however be happy to make use of me as a useful resource as nicely. The
    vaccine is our path again to a wholesome nation for secure reopening of
    the financial system. With the rise of delta variant getting individuals sicker –
    even younger adults – and extra knowledge pouring in on vaccine
    efficacy, the scenario is changing into pressing in lots of areas of the
  5. Upcoming
    Columbus Bonsai Society
    1. 8/15/2021 – Membership Potluck
      1. Convey a tree to work on and a dish to share.
      2. You may as well deliver bushes/provides to promote.
    2. 9/6/2021 – CBS @ Higher Arlington Labor Day Arts Competition
        1. I will be working the sales space. Come say hello!
    3. 9/18-9/19/2021 –
      CBS Annual Present @ Franklin Park Conservatory

Keep secure and bonsai on!



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