Q: My dad had a big tree in the back yard he called his catawba tree. Twice each summer it was loaded with yellow and black worms. Boy, did we catch the fish with them! Can you tell me the species of tree and how does the cycle of worms work?
A: It’s common knowledge among fisherfolk that catawba worms are good fish bait. Your Dad’s tree is commonly called a catalpa tree, Catalpa bignoniodes. Sphinx moth caterpillars love catalpa tree leaves. After they gorge themselves, they drop to the ground, pupate and turn into moths. There can be several generations in a year.
If you want to grow a tree of your own, find an existing catalpa tree and harvest the long, yellow, bean-like seed pods that drop in fall. Plant the seed in a sunny spot and transplant the seedlings to an inconspicuous place that can handle a tree that grows fifty feet tall and thirty feet wide. I recommend a back yard corner because the worms will make the tree look really ragged by September each year.
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