A contrary name for a curious tree.
It doesn’t come from India and it doesn’t produce beans, but the Indian bean tree (Catalpa bignonioides) is a great favourite for its character and decorative appeal. This particular old gentleman was planted in Regent’s Park, opposite Cornwall Terrace near the Outer Circle, about 180 years ago when John Nash was originally designing the park. It may be one of the oldest trees still living in the park.
Home for Catalpa bignonioides is the southern United States, and it takes its name from a local Native American tribe called the Catawba. It seems the Latin name was just a mistake, with Catawba misspelled as Catalpa by a sloppy botanist. As for the ‘beans’, the tree produces very distinctive long, slim, cylindrical seed pods that look rather like beans (another name is the cigar tree, and it’s easy to see why).
These pods hang from the tree all winter, splitting to release many silvery-grey, winged seeds. Other decorative features are the fabulous blossom - white with yellow and purple flecks - that comes out in July when there isn’t much else in bloom, and the attractive heart-shaped leaves that emerge suddenly in late June.
Our Indian bean tree is close to Clarence Bridge on the Boating Lake, and only a few minutes from Baker Street tube station.