August 13, 2021

Crazy for Catalpa! Bonsai prospects for an unusual North American native

         If you're familiar with the northern catalpa, Catalpa speciosa, then you know it's a pretty strange tree and certainly not one which you would expect to be used for bonsai. Maybe it's a fool's errand for me to attempt to tame a tree with 12" leaves and 20" seed pods, however something about that staccato, memorable name has got me captivated. I've been observing specimen of it everywhere I go around Columbus as it is one of the more easily identifiable naive trees around - so much so, I've even got my girlfriend shouting "Catalpa!" every time we pass one. From this foundation, basic identification skills had led me to observe the species more intimately. As with any unknown species, the more scenarios you observe a specimen, the more you can observe its potential for bonsai. In the case of the catalpa, observations of a full-sized specimen, the seeding frequency of seeded, the fast growth of those volunteers, and the discovery of one naturally stunted catalpa all inform my plans to experiment with this species for bonsai.

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Catalpa is capable of producing a variety of leaf sizes. The left-most leaf is typical for a healthy catalpa, while the right leaves are from a naturally stunted catalpa.

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