Conversations With Trees #21

Catalpa 009

Today’s tree:  Catalpa or Indian Bean Tree, Catalpa bignonioides

I do not see any long seed pods to be certain this is a catalpa, but I find few other tree leaves like this anywhere.  There is a Northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) and Southern catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides). I figure this is not C. speciosa because apparently its leaves go from green to the ground, with no yellowing between.

Catalpa 008

Speaking of yellowing, the process of fall colors in leaves is fascinating.  This great article, Science of Color in Autumn, made me realize all the eons of writers who have penned about autumn being the “dying season” may be wrong.  At least they have been doing linear thinking.  Actually the trees in fall are preparing for growth and birth.

To summarize, chlorophyll as most folks know is green, but chlorophyll fades and continually needs to be replaced during the growing season.  The tree spends a good deal of energy on replacing its chlorophyll.  When lengths of nights reach a tipping point, trees are signaled to begin blocking off access of the nutrients that make chlorophyll to the leaf and even stop the flow of nutrients from the roots to the leaves.  After the yellow, orange, red and purple pigments are gone, all that is left are tannins – brown.  And the leaves take a plunge.

Catalpa 002

Most interesting to me is how the catalpa was named.  It was intended to be named after the Catawba people, but the botanist who registered the official name made a transcription error.  (Scopoli working with Linnaeus, the botanist father of taxonomy).  As I am a modern scribe/ transcriptionist by trade and expected to achieve 99% accuracy in my work, this sort of incident demonstrates any number of possibilities: 1) how long an error can be carried through time, 2) likely how unfamiliar the European botanists were with the Native peoples of America, 3) the quill ink pens and early pencils of the 1770s smudged, 4) typos existed before typing, 5) Scopoli could have had a bad day.

Catalpa 001


About Erin W

A sensitive plant, bamboo strong.
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