The Indian cigar tree of the Bignoniaceae plant family originated in the United States and goes by many other names, such as Indian bean, Shawnee wood, catalpa, Catawba, lady cigar and fish bait tree, among others. "Catalpa" means "bean tree" in the Cherokee Indian language. The seed pods growing on these ornamental shade trees are referred to as "fruit" and resemble long, slender cigars and elongated string beans.
Indian cigar trees prefer full to partial sun and thrive in moist, well-drained soil. These fast-growing perennials can reach a height of 60 feet and width of 30 feet. In the summer, green, heart-shaped leaves grow between 6 and 12 inches long, followed by clusters of stunning, bell-shaped blossoms bursting open at the stem tips. These showy white flowers are 2 inches in diameter and boast ruffled petal edges and throats splashed with purple, yellow and orange hues. The green seed pods appear during the summer, growing 6 to 24 inches long and 1/3 inch in diameter.
Seed Pod "Cigars"
In autumn, the dangling, cigar-like seed pods mature and then turn dark brown; by late winter or early spring, the pods split in half. An abundance of delicate, winged seeds about 2 inches long and 1/4 inch wide spill out from inside the pods. Indian cigar trees have been propagated by seed for more than 200 years. The seed pod fibers can be used to fashion ropes.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the seed pods of an Indian cigar tree contain sedative properties. Early pioneer doctors brewed tea from the seeds and pods that aided in treating breathing problems caused by bronchial infections, asthma and heart conditions. When applied topically to wounds, the tea served as an antiseptic.
White peach scales feast on the bark, leaves and seed pods of Indian cigar trees, leading to the possible destruction of entire branches. Ladybugs and common lacewing insects feed on white peach scales, helping to control infestation; insecticidal oils and other pesticides prove somewhat effective. A profusion of flowers and leaves shedding from Indian cigar trees throughout spring and fall, along with seed pods dropping during the winter, lead to unsightly litter on the ground. Indian cigar trees may grow out of control and have the propensity to become weedy and invasive.