The bark of Catalpa bignonioides, Walter (Catalpa syringaefolia, Sims; Bignonia Catalpa, Linné; Catalpa cordifolia, Nuttall).
COMMON NAMES: Cigar-tree, Catalpa-tree, Bean-tree, Indian bean-tree.
ILLUSTRATIONS: Michaux, F. Sylv., Vol. II, Plate 64; Bot. Mag., Plate 1094.
Botanical Source.—This handsome tree has leaves that are large, heart-shaped, opposite or disposed in whorls of 3. The flowers appear in June and July, and are produced in large, showy, terminal, compound panicles. The corollas are about an inch long, white, tinged with purple, and studded with orange spots in the tubes. They are bell-shaped, with a swollen tube, irregularly 5-lobed and 2-lipped. The fruit is a slender, 2-celled capsule, about 1 foot long, 1/4 of an inch thick, and hangs suspended until spring. The seeds are numerous and winged.
History.—This tree is a native of the southern United States, but is cultivated as an ornamental tree and frequently naturalized in the northern states. It belongs to the natural order Bignoniaceae, and, except a western states species, the Catalpa speciosa of Warder, is the only indigenous species of Catalpa, although others are found in Asia and the West Indies. The tree is called "cigar-tree," or "bean-tree," names derived from the slender fruit. The fruit and seeds have also been used.
Description.—The bark of the trunk is scaly, brown, and from 3 to 6 lines in thickness. That of the young limbs, is smooth, dark-grayish, and spotted with lighter colored excrescences. The young bark, and the inner portion of the old, is bitter. Catalpa wood is very durable, rivalling cedar. It is hard, grayish, and of coarse fiber.
Chemical Composition.—In 1870, Eugene A. Rau (Amer. Jour. Pharm.) made an examination of the inner bark of the tree, and found it to contain tannin, and a nauseating matter soluble in ether. When this substance was boiled with water and oxide of lead, and then filtered, a yellowish solution was obtained, free from alkaloids, and very bitter. The precipitate that separated with the oxide of lead, gave to boiling alcohol a crystallizable, white, neutral substance, which possessed the nauseating bitter taste of the bark, and was soluble in ether and chloroform. In addition to the above, an insipid resin and glucose were obtained. The seeds, when extracted with a mixture of alcohol, ether, and ammonia, yielded several crystallizable principles. (Brown, 1887). Sugar, tannin, resin, and fixed oil are also constituents of the seeds.
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—It is stated that poisonous emanations issue from this tree, but we have no knowledge of any serious effects resulting from an exposure thereto. The pods and seeds have been employed in decoction in chronic bronchial affections, spasmodic asthma, and dyspnoea, and certain forms of functional heart disease; 6 or 8 ounces to a pint of water, and given in tablespoonful doses, repeated every 1 or 2 hours. The leaves, bruised, and applied as a cataplasm, have been used in irritable scrofulous ulcers; they appear to possess anodyne properties. The bark has been employed internally, in powder, or in decoction, in scrofulous maladies, and as an anthelmintic. The juice of the leaves, as well as of the root, has been beneficially employed as a local application in the several forms of strumous ophthalmia, as well as in certain cutaneous affections. From the statements that have been made as to the toxic properties of this tree, and which have not yet been satisfactorily demonstrated, it would be advisable to use some prudence and care in the internal administration of any of its preparations. Dose of specific catalpa, fraction of a drop to 20 drops.
Related Species.—Bignonia capreolata, Linné. Southern United States. Trumpet creeper. A shrub of climbing habit, bearing large orange-colored flowers. Aqueous preparations of the stems and root of this species have been used, according to Porcher, for the same purposes as sarsaparilla—i.e., in syphilis, chronic rheumatic complaints, and other disorders dependent upon blood dyscrasia. It is reputed alterative, detergent, sudorific, and diuretic. A closely related plant is the Tecoma radicans, Jussieu, known as Trumpet flower.