Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Catalpa: A little June in January

I'd intended to be more artistic about this, but half way to the big catalpa tree over by the railroad tracks yesterday afternoon it occurred to me that it was cold. When I got there and took off gloves in order to mainpulate the camera --- really cold. So I just fired, turned tail and ran.

But you get the idea --- a big shapely interesting tree in winter. There used to be many more of these in Chariton and the countryside surrounding, but no one seems to plant them any more --- perhaps intimidated by these magnificent seed pods.

The reward comes almost always during the first week in June when these glorious trees have leafed out, then suddenly burst fully into bloom from top to bottom. It's quite the show. And I wanted to borrow a little early summer yesterday, which was why I was walking up the alley toward the railroad tracks in the first place.

These are Catalpa speciosa or northern catalpa, not native to the south of Iowa at all. But they are extraordinarily hardy, so flourish when transplanted from their native habitat in the mid-Mississippi valley to the south. The southern Catalpa --- Catalpa bignonioides --- a smaller tree, grows farther south and not around here at all.

The year 1882 was a big one in Lucas County for catalpas. Smith H. Mallory, then-owner of the 1,000-acre Brooke Farm just north of town, ordered up and planted 30,000 --- giving some away, too; encouraging nurserymen in Lucas County and elsewhere to sell them.

Mallory, a railroad contractor, decided catalpas would make excellent railroad ties --- and that might have been the case, but trees do require time to grow and by the time the catalpas were reaching a usable size, there were few railroads to build in the Midwest and interest in catalpas as much more than decorative had vanished.

They had been marketed aggressively for a few years, however --- others had thought they might make good fence posts ---  and we're still operating off the surplus built up during those decades of enthusiastic planting.

Come June, when you're out for a drive, might I recommend Graceland Cemetery north of Lucas (or northeast of Norwood), where the church has long since vanished but the catalpa grove planted around it continues to flourish.

And if you "collect" trees, here's the biggest catalpa I've ever seen --- located at Jones Cemetery down in Wayne County.

Now there's something to look forward to. Head south and watch it bloom. Unless, of course, you live in Promise City --- then you'll want to head northeast.

1 comment:

Rod.Rumble2@sympatico.ca said...

Great blog Frank..
Thank you