Catalpa: Uses and Vulnerabilities

Catalpa is a beautiful wood, rot-resistant and prized by some wood turners. Standing trees may have heart rot, however. April 24, 2013

I have a stand of approximately 50-60 tall 50' +/- and straight 90 year old catalpas. They were planted in rows about 1920 for fence posts but never harvested. Any idea what I could or should do with them?

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor R:
Something odd about catalpas. They are supposed to be highly rot resistant, but I've never seen an old one that isn't hollow. I love the wood both for furniture and turning. Pretty soft for furniture for the general public that is used to handling furniture like it is all made from particleboard and laminate. Cuts and dries like a dream!

From contributor L:
I don't believe these are rotted in the center, although some have woodpecker damage. They seem to love them. Each year I have several nests of pileateds in the grove. I have several that have been down for at least 25 years and show absolutely no rot or decay. It really is amazing.

From contributor J:
Our neighbor cut down two catalpas, 24-28 DBH, last year that were planted in the 1940's. They were cut up into 2-3 lengths for firewood. One tree had rot up to about 20 feet. Only the outer 5" was not rotten. The other had severe wind shake when it was about 12'diameter, so the heart was basically loose for a considerable distance up the tree. These trees looked healthy and produced a prodigious amount of catalpa trash. They were removed because they stood between the houses only 10' apart and we were very concerned about the big limb over our power line.

From contributor S:
That's one of my favorite woods for turning - aromatic and beautiful. Where are you located?

From contributor L:
I'm in Northeastern Ohio. I'm going to have one of the bigger ones cut down and will take photos. What length should I have the logs cut?

From contributor T:
I love catalpa. Beautiful rich grain patterns and lovely color. Heart rot is not uncommon in many species and in some trees like Juniperus virginiana (eastern red cedar) it is almost certain to be present in very old trees. Since heart rot is a fungus it can only attack live trees, so the durability of a species' lumber once properly dried, processed and placed into service has no bearing on a living tree's defense against it.

I think some species are less prone or more prone to it, but my experience is limited to the species in my own area. Species that are extremely prone to it here are honey locust, redbud, ERC, red oaks, sweet gum, and really just about any very large tree of practically any species with few exceptions.