The Climbing Tree

Tree of the Month - Catalpa • Catalpa speciosa

October/November 2016

by: Gilbert A Smith, ISA Master Arborist

Photos by Lesley Bruce Smith

Photos by Lesley Bruce Smith

In the Park in Glenview where I grew up, my father grew up and my grandfather raised his family stands an ancient weatherworn Catalpa tree. The leaves are giant “elephant ears” that sway in the slightest breeze.

The huge Pinky-white flowers cover this 60 foot tree even at the top in May/ June. It is one of the few large shade trees with showy, sweet smelling flowers.

The long, thin, cylindrical, fruit pods hanging down within reach can be popped into a child’s mouth as a pretend cigar. That’s where this tree gets one of its common names, Indian Cigar Tree.

The branches grow out horizontally at first and then arch up like a twisted candelabra as if it held its arms out and up to embrace all those around it. And so it has for many generations embraced the children of the New Church Park.

Everyone calls it The Climbing Tree. The bark is no longer ridged or furrowed but warn smooth by the hundreds of kids that have played in its canopy.  It has places close to the trunk where “scaredy cats” can sit.  There are wide, high perches where the brave and fool hardy can test their climbing skills.  Lots of broken arms attest to the danger but its a rite of passage that no park kid misses.  

The Climbing Tree shades the other play ground swings and jungle jim and calls to all the children below.  Thats what makes The Climbing Tree one of my favorite, and I’ve climbed quite a few. 

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