Lincoln Library Northern Catalpa

This mature Catalpa, now in its declining years, was one of the first trees planted in the Library grounds, in the early 1900’s. It soon became a fixture not only for its beauty, but also because of its twisting trunk. During the century this tree has stood here, many people have speculated about its twisting aspect. The most common theory was that several trees were planted together and forced into this decades-long spiral of their trunks, eventually forming one twisted specimen.

But after closely inspecting the direction of the wood fibers of the Catalpa and its twisting branches above the main trunk level, longtime arborist Ray Moritz determined the twisting is almost certainly due to a genetic anomaly. This is not uncommon among Catalpas and other trees, like the Giant Sequoias. This means that any offspring propagated from seeds pollinated by other trees may very well not twist. Generating twisting Catalpas would require propagating cuttings from the branches — a method that nurseries use to get the exact genetic traits of the parent tree.

The name Catalpa came from the Native American name of the tree, pronounced “kutulpa.” Herbalists use Catalpas for various medicinal concoctions. A tea made from the seeds is said to treat asthma and bronchitis, and tea from its bark to having antiseptic, laxative and sedative properties. It is even used as an antidote to snakebites. The tea’s narcotic effects never leave the patient dazed, according to herbalists. Catalpa wood is also used as tonewood in guitars.