This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V23", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
There is in nature no quality more decided than the manner in which she adapts vegetation to the various conditions of climatic change. When by transplanting a tree we bring to bear upon it difference of temperature, an atmosphere drier or more damp than its natural one, and all local influence foreign to it, we find in nature an effort to meet the new surroundings. If the change is too radical for her action, and a plant is removed from its habitat beyond the limit of endurance it succumbs, giving place to other forms. Defeat is only in appearance, for nature frequently abandons the original species, starting afresh with a form of life that can meet the requirements of altered location. One of the most striking examples of this is presented in the comparatively recent discovery of two distinct species of the Catalpa - a tree destined to become as important in its usefulness in America as the shady, fruit-bearing date-palm so highly prized by the Arab.
Both kinds of the Catalpa are indigenous to the United States, growing side by side in localities favorable to both species, and until the last two years supposed to be, from this circumstance, the same tree. Early accounts show that the kind called the common Catalpa, - known throughout the North-west as the tender kind, - was discovered in the forests of Alabama and Georgia, where its beauty as a shade tree was conspicuous even amid the showy magnolias and wild olive. Better able than these to bear a colder climate, the Catalpa was cultivated along the Atlantic coast region as far north as Massachusetts, seeming to find there a northern limit.
In the year 1825, General Harrison called the attention of the Western pioneer to the merits of the Catalpa tree. He referred to some Catalpas he had seen growing near Vincennes, Ind. The question arose, whence had they come? The tree had not spread so far west from the coast, and no one could claim to have planted them. They were cultivated with care, and in the course of time when the Georgia form and the Western type met together, it was found that the latter bloomed fully three weeks sooner than the common variety. The fact was at first disputed and called accidental, but impartial, laborious and minute investigations by some of the most experienced aboriculturists of the country have proved it beyond a doubt. During the last year Dr. John A. Warder, of Cincinnati, and Mr. Robert Douglass, of Waukegan, III., have pursued independent investigations of the subject, both reaching the same conclusion, that our Western forest has produced a variety of the Catalpa, known as the Speciosa, from its rich cluster of blossoms in the spring, which is adapted to the climate and soil of the West, while the Eastern species cannot bear the test of a severe winter.
Wishing to be assured by the only test that is conclusive, Mr. Robert Douglass procured seeds of both species, cultivating each with equal care. As the result he now devotes all his attention to the only one that can be held desirable for the tree-planter or the farmer of the West, the early blooming, or the hardy Catalpa has proved itself by nature fitted for the needs of the locality to which it is indigenous, while its Eastern type succumbs beside it. Throughout the Mississippi and Ohio river valleys, from the northern limit of Illinois to the upper portions of Mississippi and Arkansas, the Speciosa Catalpa has a permanent foot-hold, while to the middle and southern portion of the section indicated it is a native tree.
The permanent value of the Catalpa to the country at large cannot be overestimated. The trees transplanted to the treeless prairies of Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, etc, by the extensive experiments made in the interests of the Kansas City, Fort Scott, Gulf Railroad, etc, under the superintendence of Mr. Douglass, have proved capable of enduring the extremes of fierce summer heat, with weeks of tropical temperature, without a drop of rain, and also to bear the severity of the hardest winter known for many years.
Its power to resist decay is shown by logs proved to be used for several generations. A Catalpa gatepost set up in Indiana during the year 1780, was found in 1871 to be apparently sound as ever. Railroad ties, daily crossed by heavy trains, have done duty undisturbed for thirteen years, and even those placed in wet and swampy soil are unaffected by the cause of certain decay for almost any other American forest timber.
To the hardy pioneer of the West desiring a tree which shall repay him during his own lifetime by its vigorous growth, and which shall be valuable to a second generation, nothing can equal the Catalpa speciosa - from its beauty as a shade tree, its rapid growth and value as a timber tree in the treeless plains of the West.