The catalpa is a small tree, about ten species belong to the genus, native to the United States and Asia; these are fairly long-lived trees, with a fairly rapid development in the first years of life, then they tend to grow slowly; so that in 5-6 years we will already have a tree a couple of meters high, but in the span of 15-20 years we will get a small tree, maximum 5-6 meters high. The trunk is broad, stocky, well erect, about half the width of the crown, or a little more high; the crown is rounded, very dense and branched. This plant loses its foliage in the fall; in spring it produces large heart-shaped leaves, very characteristic. In late spring, large panicles of pink, white or yellow flowers bloom at the apex of the branches, delicately scented, very showy and decorative. The flowers are followed by the fruits, long pods, containing the often fertile seeds; these fruits give the plant its vulgar name: Cigar tree.
In the garden
The first examples of catalpa arrived in Europe from the United States, as early as the 19th century, and since then they have been grown in gardens, but also often in city parks, where they quickly provide good summer shade.
These are trees of easy cultivation; they prefer sunny areas, with a medium-textured soil, not excessively rich, fairly well drained, even if in reality they survive without problems even in areas with heavy and often humid soil. In fact, small groups of them are seen near ponds or artificial lakes.
They do not fear cold, heat, drought, and only in the first months after planting it is advisable to water the plants during periods of prolonged drought. A specimen of catalpa planted for some years has been satisfied with the water provided by the bad weather, does not require particular fertilization and generally does not get sick. In the areas of origin, the catalpas are attacked by lepidopteran larvae that feed only on catalpa, often with devastating effects; these moths have not yet reached Europe, where the plants develop without problems.
Plants against mosquitoes
An Italian nurseryman has hybridized and selected a truth of catalpa with aromatic foliage; the scent of the foliage and wood of these plants are very annoying to mosquitoes, and can help us keep these annoying insects away. This plant was baptized Catambra®, it is slightly different from the Catalpa, but it has inherited many of its most interesting characteristics: it is in fact a tree with limited growth and dimensions that are not inconceivable; it adapts to normal garden soil, and does not need much care. It can therefore also be placed in a small garden, possibly on the side where the bedrooms are located, in order to constitute a real mosquito barrier during the night.
Other mosquito repellent plants
There are other plants that can help us against mosquitoes, thanks to their penetrating aroma, which is unwelcome to insects; the most commonly spread is lemongrass, of which however it is difficult to grow specimens, more simply you buy lemongrass oil or citronella candles, to be burned at night near the bedrooms.
In addition to lemongrass, also some varieties of geranium are very annoying to mosquitoes, but unfortunately these plants release their scent only if we crush the leaves; to obtain the anti-mosquito effect it would therefore be necessary to expose the geraniums on the window, and every night to crush one or two leaves with the hands, in order to create a cloud of scent unwelcome to insects. Other plants with fragrant foliage are also annoying to mosquitoes, such as mint and basil, and even the tea tree; generally the best way to keep these animals away is to use essential oils of these plants, to mix with almond oil, and then to use on the skin as a barrier. Surely also placing a beautiful vase with basil and geranium on the terrace or on the windowsills can ward off at least most of the annoying mosquitoes that intend to visit us in the night.