The Northern Catalpa in Southern Virginia

Catalpa
Photo courtesy C. Mehring

The blooming peak of the Northern Catalpa in Nelson County, Virginia is about the 24th May. Although some call it the Catawba tree, in these parts it is called the Monkey’s Cigar tree. This is because of its elongated dark brown pods. I well remember my becoming acquainted with the Northern Catalpa.

Reason for My Trip South

I had lived in Camden County, New Jersey for 33 years. In my teen years, my parents had taken my sister and I on a trip to Sprouse’s Corners in Buckingham County, Virginia to see a friend of my mother from her childhood days. The woman had lost her parents when she was still young. Still in her youth, she had boarded with my mother’s mother.

Inflorescence.

When my finances became slim and an exceptional friend moved to Albemarle County, Virginia, I determined to move there as well. I had never climbed a mountain after all, being solely acquainted with the Jersey seashore. We were both Jehovah’s Witnesses, so I knew there would be many who would greet my arrival.

An Old Lady Friend

One of the persons I met was a woman (oh, how dear to me now!) in her upper 70s or perhaps early 80s. We were in a car group of 3 or 5 along with a young black fellow of my age, Brother Johnson, with whom I became quite close. It was on that day I spotted this unique tree, complete with pods. I asked Sister Ladd what kind of tree it was.

Northern Catalpa
Catalpa tree leaves and immature pods.

Catalpa Tree? She Zinged Me!

She uttered the classic words, “It’s a monkey cigar tree [pause]. Brother Johnson, would you please get the monkey a cigar?” The surprised look on my face cracked my acquaintances up. It took me a moment to realize I had been playfully duped.

Since those days, back in 1981, there were many fond memories for us. In my travels with other foursomes, I have never failed since to identify a Northern Catalpa for those present with me.

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