A few weeks ago I received a question from a friend visiting ADK Oasis Highlawn: What’s the tree in the front yard with exotic white blossoms and enormous heart-shaped leaves? I stopped by to verify that a catalpa (aka catawba, cigar tree) was blooming.
The catalpa tree is pretty exotic for these parts, planted by a previous owner whose legacy is a veritable arboretum of interesting tree varieties. And the catalpa blooms, regarded up close, are simply stunning.
Ochre and claret
splatter alabaster crêpe;
skinny cigars soon.
The northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa), produces long, bean-like seed pods resembling green (when immature) and brown (when mature) cigars. Or dangling snakes startled stiff?
And then there’s that splash of color — egg yolk mixed with mustard toward the center, surrounded with garnet red — on crisp white petals that resemble taffeta or crêpe fabric. Each blossom remembers a pair of paintbrushes shaken, pigment scattering, stark and captivating, invoking wonder.
There’s a slightly tropical flare to these flowers. The vibrance. The contrast. The unrestrained opulence that flirts with the eyes.
The catalpa’s foliage, oversized and heart shaped, makes for a cooling shade tree. A nice spot for an Adirondack chair!