This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V22", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
There seems to be some confusion regarding the identity of certain varieties which at times we think we have settled, and then again we hardly know.
About two years ago, in conjunction with Mr. John C. Teas, of Carthage, Mo., I undertook to investigate the character of the speciosa, to if possible, determine its botanical position, whether a species or only a variety.
Under date of May 20th, 1878, Mr. Teas after writing at some length such facts as had come under his observations regarding the C. speciosa, says: "Then I have another Catalpa, - new - from Japan; not in bloom for two or three weeks yet. Of this I am anxious to learn the name. I suppose you have it in your books, and can easily make it out from specimens I could send. It is also an exceedingly vigorous upright grower, and I think will make a most valuable timber tree, - surely so if its wood posses the imperishable quality belonging to the other catalpas".
Again June 6th, of same year, Mr. Teas sent leaves and flowers of several kinds of catalpas, and wrote of the Japan variety: " It seems a rather difficult matter to settle upon the correct specific name, but I hope you may be able to make it out. I had the trees in 1866, from my friend Mahlon Moon, of Morrisville,Penna., grown from seed imported from Japan, by Ho-vey & Co., of Boston. I had also what appeared to be the same, about the same time from France, as Bungei, - very incorrect, as Bungei is a very dwarf kind. [Why incorrect? - Ed].
" The trees grew rapidly, and bloomed soon. When Mr. Moon's trees bloomed he thought it inferior to our native species, and so grubbed out his stock entirely. We let it stand, but did not regard it of any special value, until we thought of using it as a timber tree. It grows with about, I think quite double the rapidity of the common catalpa, and when it gets up to a good size, it is a good ornamental.tree. I raised trees here in 1871 from seeds from the trees I had in 1866 in Indiana. These planted five years ago, in village lots are now 25 feet high, 7 to 8 inches in diameter, more upright than the common catalpa, and fully twice as large as those of same setting. The Japan is a more profuse bloomer than the common, and the panicles are of larger size. Two we counted had 380 and 404 flowers, and buds to bloom. Plenty more as large. The flowers are a little smaller than those of the common, - l 1/8 to 1 1/4 inch diameter each way, color and markings same, only more color and less white, and the white less pure and clear. i But the great profusion of bloom and large size of the clusters make the trees in bloom a magnificent, gorgeous sight, and the flowers are quite fragrant.
" The common seems to vary in regard to fragrance, but I have never found any even approaching the Japan in this respect. The leaves though generally shaped a good deal like leaves of the common, vary considerably. Many are lobed, some on one side, and some on both, and the lobes generally, though not always, end in a sharp acute point. The seed pods are very distinct, being remarkably slender, though of about the usual length, only about the size of a goose-quill. Seeds also quite small; one pound containing 50,000, while a pound of the common only go a little over 20,000.
" Several to whom I have sent it incline to call it Ksempferi, but it is very unlike what we have for Kaempferi, from Rochester, and which I think correct. Plants ten years old, nine and a half feet high, and forty feet in circumference of branches at four or five feet from the ground; innumerable stems like a great old currant bush. Top dense, almost even, and smooth as a clipped hedge, though never cut; leaves small, dark green and glossy; twigs slender. No bloom yet, though have watched carefully for several years. I think it will be nice worked standard high, but for timber, might as well plant gooseberry bushes. Some one suggest that our Kaempferi may be Bungei, but I think that is still more dwarf, - stouter in its twigs".
At another time Mr. Teas sent me some small trees of speciosa, Japan and Bungei, as he has them, and wrote regarding them.
"It (the Japan) probably belongs to the Kaempferi section, but is altogether distinct from K. itself. I have no Kaempferi, but enclose a few seeds which I suppose to be K. I bought it in France for Bungei, and what I now send you as B. I bought at Rochester as K".
Now Mr. Editor, the more we study this question the less we seem to know about the identity of kinds. Is this Japan catalpa of Mr. Teas Bungei or some new kind? And is the dwarf one C. Ksempferi?
An answer will remove a good deal of confusion at present existing, regarding the proper names of these different species.
[We have received this since the note in our "Forestry" department went to press. We would simply suggest to our friend that when " the more we study the less we know," it ought to indicate that we have been studying in the wrong direction. The best direction to study a botanical question, is in the line of botanical authorities. Probably the best authority on this Catalpa question is DeCandolle, as already stated. If DeCandolle is wrong, the error has not been pointed out by any botanist that we know of; and we must wait till some one of them does. In the mean time the lobed leaved kind with flowers remains C. Bungei, and the dwarf form of the American is C. Kaempferi. There is no mystery about it that we see - Ed. G. M].