The Holcomb Tree Trail is a small arboretum on the Town-owned, 312-acre Holcomb Farm in West Granby. Volunteers planted its first 16 trees in October 2018. Some of those trees, including a Princeton Elm, are now more than 15 feet tall. Planting has continued, with the total plantings now numbering about 80 trees. One of the design principles has been to plant trees with spring blooms or fall color—or both.
One of the latest additions to the Holcomb Tree Trail, planted in the fall of 2021, is a single northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa). It is only a foot tall and is planted about 50 feet off the east side of Simsbury Road. It is enclosed in a wire cage to discourage deer who enjoy the new tender leaves.
The northern catalpa is not native to Connecticut. When the colonists arrived, the species could be found in southwest Indiana, southern Illinois, and parts of northern Tennessee and northern Arkansas. But since then, it has been widely planted in the eastern U.S., where it thrives in a huge variety of climatic conditions, as it has what is called “species ubiquity.” It was highly valued because of its durability in contact with the ground. Catalpa gateposts have been known to last 100 years.
It flowers in May or June, with white 2-inch, bell-shaped tubes in an upright 8-inch panicle. The flowers are spotted with yellow ridges and a few purple spots. The fruit, in a cylindrical pod up to 20” long, contains numerous fringed seeds which germinate readily. The fruit accounts for its reputation for messiness and quasi-invasiveness. It is a fast grower, up to 15 feet in seven years, with some even faster.
Catalpas are fairly common in Granby. The photos that accompany this article were taken on Day Street, but there are many others in town, some quite large. The larger tree is estimated to be 100 years old. Despite its messy seed capsules, authorities describe it as a “beautiful, on occasion majestic species,” and “an isolated tree on a lawn is seen to exceptional advantage.” In the wild, it can exceed 100 feet in height. But it is usually 40 to 60 feet in height with a 20- to 40-foot spread.
The Connecticut champion, in Bozrah, is 59 feet tall with a 60-foot spread. The national champion, in Indiana, is 78 feet tall with a spread of 81 feet.
While the Tree Trail’s only catalpa is now tiny, we hope it will grow to be one of the larger trees in time.