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The catalpa is a small tree, about ten species belong to the genus, originating in the United States and Asia; these are fairly long-lived trees, with a fairly rapid development in the first years of life, then they tend to grow slowly; so in 5-6 years we will already have a tree a couple of meters high, but within 15-20 years we will get a small tree, up to 5-6 meters high. The stem is broad, stocky, well erect, about half the width of the crown, or slightly more; the crown is rounded, very dense and branched. This plant loses its foliage in autumn; in spring it produces large heart-shaped leaves, very characteristic. In late spring, at the apex of the branches large panicles of pink or white flowers bloom, delicately scented, very showy and decorative. The flowers are followed by fruits, long pods, containing often fertile seeds; these fruits give the plant the vulgar name: Cigar tree.
In the garden
The first specimens of catalpa arrived in Europe from the United States, already in the 800s, and since then they are cultivated in the gardens, but also often in city parks, where they quickly provide a good summer shade.
These are trees that are easy to grow; they prefer sunny areas, with a medium mixture soil, not excessively rich, fairly well drained, even if in reality they survive without problems even in areas with heavy and often damp soil. In fact, small groups are seen near ponds or artificial ponds.
They do not fear the cold, the heat, the drought, and only in the first months after the plant it is advisable to water the plants during periods of prolonged drought. A specimen of catalpa living in the garden for some years is satisfied with the water supplied by the weather, it does not need any special fertilization and generally does not get sick. In the areas of origin the catalpe are attacked by larvae of lepidopterans which feed only on catalpa, often with devastating effects; these moths have not yet arrived in Europe, where plants develop without problems.
Plants against mosquitoes
An Italian nurseryman has bred and selected a truth of catalpa with aromatic foliage; the scent of the foliage and wood of such plants is very annoying to mosquitoes, and can help us keep these annoying insects away. This plant has been christened Catambra®, it is slightly different from Catalpa, but it has inherited many of the most interesting features: it is in fact a tree with contained growth and unimaginable dimensions; it adapts to normal garden soil, and does not require much care. It can therefore also be placed in a small garden, possibly from the side where the bedrooms are located, so as to constitute a real barrier to mosquitoes during the night.
Other mosquito repellent plants
There are other plants that can help us against mosquitoes, thanks to their penetrating aroma, which is unwelcome to insects; the most commonly spread is the citronella, of which however hardly some specimens are cultivated, more simply one buys citronella oil or citronella candles, to burn at night near the bedrooms.
In addition to lemongrass, some varieties of geranium are also very annoying to mosquitoes, but unfortunately these plants only give off their scent if we crush their leaves; to obtain the anti-mosquito effect it would therefore be necessary to expose the geraniums on the window, and every night to crush with the hands one or two leaves, so as to constitute a cloud of perfume unwelcome to the insects. Also other plants with fragrant foliage are annoying to mosquitoes, such as mint and basil, and even tea tree; generally the best way to keep these animals away is to use essential oils from these plants, to mix them with almond oil, and then use them on the skin as a barrier. Surely even placing a nice vase with basil and geranium on the terrace or on the windowsills can at least remove most of the troublesome mosquitoes that they intend to visit us in the night.