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Capitol Plaza Trees Trees

  • kathie767

Catalpa Trees in Nevada

In 1922, according to an article in The Daily Appeal, four catalpa trees graced the capitol grounds. “They are in full bloom and with their immense green leaves and beautiful snow-white blossoms, they area a pleasure to look at and a joy to smell.”

Several years before, trees on the capitol grounds were being  thinned so trees that were crowded together could spread out. Many of the catalpas had been marked to remove. However, there was an outcry from the public against removing them, and so they stayed, regardless of their placement, which was quite out of the regularity of the planning. It is noted in the article that the trees put on a spectacular display of spring flowers that year in repayment to the community for letting them stand.

Also at that time, it is said that those four trees, situated on the north side and northwest corner of the grounds, were the only documented catalpa trees in Nevada.

Catalpa Trees on the Capitol Plaza Grounds

Our tree expert Craig found some old catalpas on the Capitol Plaza Grounds that were slow coming out of winter hibernation this year, and they appear to be very old.

Craig said he grew up in Carson City and has been driving past the Capitol grounds since he was 16 years old with a freshly minted driver’s license and had a feel for what is there.

“I guess what someone just going by may not notice, but I have been noticing as I'm doing the survey, is there was definitely a pattern and a plan in place when they did the bulk of the plantings,” he said. “For instance, the catalpas. There are two that frame both sides of the fence openings on the north entrance coming through the fence, the south entrance, and the southeast entrance.”

Only one catalpa tree stands at the northwest entrance.

“There’s one catalpa and I suspect that there was probably another one at some point, because we’ve seen the others kind of framing the entrances.

Craig said there are a couple more that are actually just out on the lawn that don't appear to be part of part of a plan.

If you break down the numbers of the tree varieties found on the Capitol grounds, Craig said are around 50 different species and there's 218 trees, that means on average of about four per species.

“I haven't seen a whole lot of catalpas in my career,” Craig said. “So, it surprised me to see the number I have seen at the Capitol grounds. I spent my career in parks, both in Washoe County and Douglas County, haven't seen a lot of catalpas.”

Catalpas in Nevada History

In 1940, the Fallon Eagle reported that catalpa trees, among many other varieties, were again available for purchase through a small trees for farm and ranch planting program, which began in 1933. Since its inception, more than 100,000 trees were purchased and planted for windbreak, shelterbelt and woodlot purposes.

Modern Catalpa Stories

More modern news stories show catalpas have moved into Nevada but have struggled to take hold.

A 2016 Reno Gazette Journal article highlights a catalpa tree on Washington Street just off Second Street that had been hand watered by a man named John Garfinkle for 12 years after the City of Reno stopped watering it and a couple of others. The catalpa, with a bench wrapping around it, had been a popular resting place for students from Washoe Innovations High School nearby.

Garfinkle had dug a depression around the base of the tree to serve as a reservoir for the water he gave it. Someone filled it in, and the water just ran out into the street. The tree was marked for removal due to the cost of installing irrigation.

Nothing more on this catalpa could be found in subsequent news searches.

Last year, the Reno Gazette Journal reported Southern Nevada is at risk of losing its tree canopy (what canopy it has) due to increasing  temperatures caused by climate change disruption. In the article, the Southern Nevada Water Authority predicted “16% of the 100 most common tree species in the Las Vegas Valley would exceed their heat tolerance by 2025, meaning those trees would not survive climate change.” This includes ash, purple-leaf plums…and catalpas.

On a happier note, the Nevada Appeal reported in 2003 that 17 trees, including catalpas, had been planted in Mills Park’s ALS Grove in Carson City by the Les Turner ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) Foundation, which is devoted to the treatment and elimination of Lou Gehrig’s Disease. These trees joined more than 50 others that had been planted in Mills Park as part of the Mills Park Arboretum Conceptual Master Plan, adopted by the Board of Supervisors in 2000.

Catalpas are also reported by JoAnne Skelly, columnist for the Nevada Appeal, to be hummingbird attracting trees, due to their abundant flowers.

Care and Planting of Catalpa Trees

Catalpa trees have large tropical leaves spanning 6-12 inches and are common in the Old Southwest part of Reno, says the Truckee Meadows Water Authority. These leaves provide great shade and the catalpa’s white flower clusters are stunning against them. TMWA says catalpas are “very drought tolerant when it receives deep, occasional watering every 10-14 days. [They are not temperature sensitive and enjoy full sun but can be wind sensitive. [And] does not need protection and is not disease prone.”

TMWA also says catalpas are appropriate for planting in close proximity to streets, or in planting strips. Check the TMWA website for more information on trees recommended for the area.

The University of Nevada, Reno says trees with dense branching found in trees like catalpas, can catch a lot of snow and tend to give into heavy snow loads more easily that trees with lighter branching. In years without heavy snowfall, trees should be watered periodically to aid in root growth.

We couldn’t find any recommendations for catalpa trees in Southern Nevada, although they are a fairly hardy, drought-resistant tree. For a guide to tree selection and care in Southern Nevada, download the University of Nevada, Las Vegas University Libraries guide book.

Uses of Catalpa Trees

The United States Department of Agriculture says catalpas are primarily used today for ornamental shade trees. Catalpas have “abundant, showy blossoms” and is rather messy – dropping blossoms in the spring, leaves in the fall and long seedpods in the winter.

Catalpa wood is lightweight and resistant to deterioration in the ground, so it was used by European settlers as fence posts. They are also used as railroad ties and railroad companies would grow plantations of catalpa for track ties and fuel wood. Carpenters used it as finishing touches in interior trim in homes and craftsman used it for furniture making, and catalpa has been used for telephone and/or power poles.

Catalpa seed pods were used by pioneer doctors for bronchial and heart problems, while the juice from crushed leaves and roots were used as remedies for swelling of eyes or swollen lymph glands, which were also treated with tea made from ground catalpa bark.

A Final Word

This blog post and others found on the Nevada Capitol Plaza Trees Project website will be updated upon the release of the tree assessment survey and sustainability plan.

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