Thursday, 8 September 2011

Indian Bean Trees- Better Late than Never...

Some trees are so eager to get growing in spring that their earliest shoots almost always get crumpled and blackened by the last biting frost of winter. The beautiful Katsura trees (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) are a case in point. 

Others, especially the Indian Bean Tree (Catalpa bignonioides), take on an altogether more cautious approach. Its bare branches feign death until the temperature truly rises, carefully and cautiously not breaking dormancy until early summer, long after everything else has leafed up. It is worth the wait however, as fresh leaves throughout the season are always flushed deepest purple before expanding into huge green, dinner-plate sized lobes. 
Slow off the mark it may be, but it is forgiven by the end of summer. This small tree is a memorable sight right now, still in full flower right down to the ground. Smothered in white blossom, closer inspection reveals large, loose clusters of tubular flowers, their throats spotted pink with yellow stripes- almost orchid like in beauty and complexity.
Given warmth for a few more weeks however, and the best could be yet to come. As other trees colour up for autumn or even begin to lose their leaves, the Catalpa’s flowering is followed by a display of dangling trusses of foot long, pencil thick pods. The amazing but inedible beans hang on all winter and give rise to that name- ‘Indian Bean Tree’.

Unless and until a sharp frost stops their development, these trees just keep getting better and better. So lets all hope for a late, long ‘Indian Summer’ this year.... 


  1. The Indian bean tree looks as if it should be far too tender to grow north of Watford. Does it get any special winter care?
    Ps have you been on holiday?

  2. Hello Janet. This tree certainly seems tough enough and gets no special care from us.
    Although ever optimistic, I'm not sure it will ever reach the bean stage this year- it has been cool and wet so long. I feel we must be heading for an early english autumn rather than a late indian summer!
    Hols and a change of computer have hit the regularity of this blog. I will try to resume normal service soon....

  3. I think the Catalpa tree could be great in the large environment you have Chris-- it is certainly interesting-- your photos are beautiful! I lived once in a little house with a lovely but very small grounds dominated by a Catalpa. It ALWAYS produced beans and I remember the leathery huge leaves that sort of wallpapered the ground...

    Good luck with the new computer!!

  4. Hi Linniew,
    Those huge leaves certainly wallpaper the ground beneath when they fall- usually all at once and very much the texture of wet wallpaper, rather than crisp and dry. We pick up most of this soggy sheet, but those we don't, the earthworms love to draw down into their burrows. By early winter all we can see beneath the tree are bunches of leaf stalks sticking up out from their holes- a very strange sight!

  5. Hi Chris
    My daughter bought me a 18" twig for my birthday and proudly pronounced it was an indian bean tree.
    We live in Brighouse up in the pennines and was wondering if we were too far north for it to grow.

  6. Hello Ivor,

    What a super present! It will grow 'up North' but probabbly fairly slowly. It is usually the last tree into leaf with us and amongst the first to lose them. As for beans- you are unlikely to see them often! Sometimes it can be late summer before even the flowers develop, leaving little time for beans to grow.

    It is an interesting tree however, and the new leaves have a lovely purplish tinge...

  7. We have grown one from seeds - It took off and developed with fully developed leaves to about 14" in height. It then lost its leaves leaving a bare woody trunk around December 2015. To date this has now done nothing in terms of re-leafing itself. We put it in the direct sun every day and take it in at night. We are in the south of England
    Do you have any suggestions as to what has happened?

  8. As I write, it is almost June, and there is hardly a leaf appearing on ours. I wouldn't write it of just yet....

  9. Thanks for the ray of hope with our bare trunk Chris - Will update if and when something happens.


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