This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V21", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
I trust you will not deem me intrusive or troublesome, if I again write you a few lines on Catalpa. The evidence accumulates that there are in several.Western States two varieties, well marked and clearly defined. One of these, even in this latitude, freezes down when young, in severe Winters, and freezes out and dies in Princeton, Ill., and further north in Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska. The other variety, called the hardy, speciosa, or early blooming, never dies from frost in any of these States. Col. J. W. Stevens of Minneapolis, Minn. 45° north latitude, writes that it stands their climate where the thermometer falls to 40° below zero sometimes. While the common or late blooming, makes a very handsome tree occasionally, erect and shapely, and in some groves that I have seen, is tall and straight; but this, I think, is the exception rather than the rule. Of a thousand common Catalpa shade trees in this vicinity, the majority may be termed scraggly. Of a thousand of the early blooming, I do not know one; while all are not perfectly straight, a very large proportion arc very handsome trees.
In Pennsylvania and South Carolina, persons write me that the common Catalpa is often scraggly.
In Marshall Co., Ill. are several groves, also many single trees of the early blooming variety; every tree is straight erect and shapely. They were planted from the seed in the open prairie twelve to sixteen years ago. I have been under the impression that the samples of durability of Catalpa to which public attention has been called, have all been of the common or late blooming variety.
Last Spring, samples of posts were sent me from Southern Illinois that had been in the ground over forty years. Though it is difficult to determine the varieties from the wood, I was strongly inclined to think the samples sent were of the early blooming or hardy variety. I deemed it so important to determine beyond any question that the durability on and under the ground was a marked characteristic of the early as well as the late blooming, that I arranged with a horticulturist of thirty years' experience, and familiar nearly all time with both varieties, to visit Southern Illinois and other points to make a careful investigation. He writes me that after a full and careful examination of posts forty-seven years in the ground, many of which still have the bark on and are therefore varieties readily ascertained, he is fully satisfied that the early blooming variety is quite as enduring as the late blooming, placed on or in the ground. He sends a piece of a fence post with the bark on perfectly sound, that has been in the ground forty-seven years. He says the garden round which these posts were planted forty-seven years ago has been removed and the posts taken up and re-set, and that the owner, Mr. Murphy, says they are good for the balance of a century.
The bark, after the tree is eight to ten years old, is a sure index of the variety.
Some claim to be able to distinguish them by the size, shape and number of pods. I cannot so distinguish them, as they very widely differ each year. Dr. Jno. A. Warder informed me, last week, of a new method of distinguishing them, that so far as I can judge, is perfect, at least it has proved so in a great number of tests I have made. The pith of the pod of the early blooming or speciosa variety, has on each side of it, running its whole length, a well-defined ridge; the late blooming, or common, has no such ridge on its pith. The seeds of the early are broader than the common, and this width extends out the whole length of the wings; the hair-like appendages at the extremities of the wings resemble fringe. In the late blooming, the wings taper to a point from which a little tuft of hair extends, resembling somewhat a camel's hair pencil brush. The difference in the pith and hairy appendages of the wings is so distinct and clearly marked, and as far as I can judge, so uniform, as to give an easy and sure mode of judging the variety.
I enclose pods of both varieties for your examination, and shall be much obliged for your opinion of the correctness of this mode of determining the variety of Catalpa. The three small pods are of the common variety. The common this year here is very full of small pods. The early has few pods this year; hundreds of trees none at all, due, I think, to heavy rains while in bloom. Three years ago the late blooming had large pods and as long as the early. My impression is, there was then the same marked difference in the hairy appendages. Please compare pods of the common Catalpa with you, with these three; probably yours are larger, and see if there is the same difference in pith and hairy appendages as I have spoken of.
[The differences are as pointed out by Mr. Barney. The seeds of the Eastern form are one inch long and an eighth of an inch wide, and those of the Western form, one inch long and a quarter of an inch wide. But the greatest difference is in the silky appendages at the ends of the seeds. In the Western form these are but half an inch long, and each hair is "combed out straight" on the edge of the seed. In the Eastern form the hair is an inch long, and all drawn out together like a "waxed moustache." Instead of mere varieties, it is likely they may take rank as distinct species. - Ed. G. M].