Indian Bean Tree

There is nothing like walking through a new neighborhood. The houses, the landscapes, and the vibe each neighborhood brings are always fun to discover.

I hit the jackpot this weekend. While visiting with a friend, we took her princess out for a stroll. I love my pup, but her black German Shepherd is the most well-behaved dog I have ever met – that story is for another day.

I almost had to duck as the sidewalks led us under a tree. A tree like nothing I have ever seen. It had what appeared to be green beans hanging from the branches. 

I immediately took pictures and sent them to my tree-loving friends. I knew they would help me put a name to this green-bean-growing tree.

Sure enough, it wasn’t long before they had a name and a few stories to share about the Common Catalpa Tree, often called the Indian Bean Tree or Cigar Tree.

This is not a small tree; they often reach 50- to -60 feet tall. The trunk is rather short, but the branches are long and gangly in their reach. The heart-shaped leaves are big, some 8 inches long and wide. 

Here is a fun story. After receiving my pictures, one of “my experts” had flashbacks of growing up in Holden, WV and having this tree near her schoolyard. She remembers the young boys trying to be tough and cool, chasing the girls trying to rub the scratchy leaves on their arms. I’m not sure she was ever caught, but I’m guessing she enjoyed the game.

The tree produces an abundance of white flowers in June and July – this must be magnificent. The yellow centers have a sweet smell and provide nectar to pollinators—another reason to appreciate this tree.  

After the flowers, long beans appear. They are actually seed pods that will eventually dry and burst open. The seeds are easy to start with little effort and will quickly germinate. If you are starting new trees, this is good. If not, maintenance will be needed to control new growth.

The Indian Bean Tree or Cigar Tree is often found in southern states but is hardy through Zone 5. No surprise, this tree is used as an ornamental or street tree. It is definitely a conversation starter. 

The tree will grow in heavy clay soil but prefers well-draining soil and is generally free of disease or fungus. When planted in a sunny location, the tree will grow moderately and live for many years. 

Researching the tree, I heard folklore of smoking the leaves or seed pods for medicinal purposes, hence the name Cigar Tree. I also found the tree roots were poisonous if ingested. 

Although planted as ornamentals, they are deciduous trees, so those big beautiful heart shape leaves will fall off in the early winter. That is a lot of raking!

Discovering a new tree – one that grows beans, – getting a little exercise, and chatting with a friend and her princess are all reasons to take a walk. Even in my city and neighborhood, I notice new things every time. For me, the best way to experience a garden is to be up close, even ducking under a tree hanging above my path.