A treeful of orchids and snow in June

Posted on June 24, 2010


Katherine sent a lovely photo and wrote:  This is a very large tree with these beautiful flowers on it and I don’t know the name of it.  I thought maybe you would.  There are several around the Eastport area and I think they are just wonderful . . . 

As it happens, I do know the name of the tree.  It is a Catalpa (a/k/a Catawba).  In fact, according to my Trees of Michigan Field Guide by the estimable Stan Tekiela, it is a Northern Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa).  More important, according to Louan and Joanne, it’s the name of the tree that grows in Joanne’s yard and drops its frilly orchids all over her lawn at this time of year.   Looky here–snow in June! 

The tree is very tall and I am not, so I went looking for fallen blossoms to photograph.   They show well against the grass and don’t mind being held. 

They’re fragrant, too, unless you happen to sit on one and carry its squished self around on the outside of your pants pocket in the hot sun until it turns brown and not-fragrant.  I digress.  Louan and Joanne showed me how to make hats for finger puppets. 

It was harder than you might think to photograph the hats.  They kept fluttering in the breeze.  I could pretend that I was trying for a nice motion effect, but it wouldn’t be true.  I was just struggling to bond with the new little camera.

Pretty soon we’ll have something else to photograph.  These trees produce seedpods that look like long bronze beans.  If we were in the South we would have something even more fascinating to photograph: fishbait.  According to the Wikipedia article on the subject:

The tree is the sole source of food for the Catalpa Sphinx moth (Ceratomia catalpae), the leaves being eaten by the caterpillars . . . . Because the caterpillars are an excellent live bait for fishing, some dedicated anglers plant catalpa mini-orchards for their own private source of “catawba-worms,” particularly in the southern states.

OK, so now I need to figure out whether muskies relish catalpa worms.  I could plant catalpa pods this fall and grow my very own fishbait orchard.  Imagine the profits that would accrue to the Writing Studio and Bait Shop.

On the other hand, we already have an infestation of tent caterpillars around here.  I could probably get people to pay me to remove those from their yards.  I wonder if Asian Carp are attracted to tent caterpillars.  Maybe we could make some really big baitballs and . . . No, you’re right.  I need a little nap.  Under the catalpa tree would be nice.