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Blooming catalpa trees
Cawtaba tree
At left is a catalpa tree. - photo by Photo provided

Nearly every old farm had some “catawba” trees as they were mostly known. The catalpa trees were good shade trees which produced rot resistant twisting trunks used for fence posts and were the food source for the fish loving catalpa caterpillar. Many farms had little orchards of these trees some distance away from their fruit orchards.

The tree has beautiful heart shaped leaves and has lovely white showy blooms. The blooms are a feast for honey bees. This tree produces long, bean-like seed pods that range from 8 to 20 inches and about one quarter to one half inch-wide. The green pods turn brown as they mature and drop to the ground.

The tree is the sole food source for the catalpa sphinx moth caterpillars which can completely devour the tree leaves. The leaves grow back but are often are eaten again with more caterpillars in consecutive cycles. Catalpa, or as we know them, “Catawba,” worms are prized for fishing. The worms are black with spots of yellow on them. The worms are soft and easily burst when baiting the hooks, but the fish love to bite them.

The old “Cawtaba” trees in my yard have been there many years and are in full bloom now. Very soon the seed pods will form, ripen and drop and the caterpillars will arrive to consume the leaves and deposit the little worms for us to go fishing. The cycle of nature is a beautiful thing to be able to watch from day to day on the farm.

This was compiled by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. If you have photos or historical information to share contact her at 754-6681 or email