Thursday, January 19, 2006

Catalpa Trees

Also known as Kutawa trees

This is one of the largest catalpa trees I've ever seen. It grows on the west lawn of St. John's United Methodist Church in Hopkinsville.

Quite a few catalpa trees grow in that part of town-- near the intersection of Virginia St. and Country Club Lane. Unfortunately some of them have been severely deformed by "topping". I've also noticed quite a few catalpas along Little River in Hopkinsville.

My brother and sister-in-law have catalpa trees in front of their house in southwest Kansas which is a testament to the catalpa's ability to endure drought and grasshoppers.

When Keely was doing a leaf collection in high school, we spent a September afternoon driving the backroads and gathering leaves. As it happened, we wandered into the little village of Allegre, and there in someone's lawn, we saw a tree whose leaf we didn't have yet.

The residents were sitting on their porch so we pulled over and asked permission to pluck a specimen. They were pleased and excited, and they offered us a leaf from every tree in their yard which we politely accepted. One of the trees, they told us, was a "kutawa" tree. I knew the tree as soon as I saw it -- it was clearly a catalpa tree, no way to mistake it.

After we left, I commented to Keely that "kutawa" must be a local corruption of the word "catalpa." But when we got home and she started looking up her leaves in the tree book, she read that "kutawba" is a common name for catalpa, and that's pretty close to "kutawa."

Catalpa was an Indian name for the tree. The botanists made it official: catalpa speciosa (the northern or "hardy catalpa") and catalpa bignonioides (the southern catalpa).

Catalpas are easy to recognize, summer or winter. They have white blossoms in early summer and large coarse heart-shaped leaves. In the fall, they produce a long thin bean (often over a foot in length) that hangs on through the winter. Their shape is interesting when their leaves have dropped. They have a rugged look about them that might make you think they'd be strong in a storm, but actually the branches are brittle and quite susceptible to wind and ice damage.

More about catalpas:
Crazy for Catalpas
Catalpa info at

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

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