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Catalpa trees and fishing worms

This was a question that the plantman answered in last weeks column.

QUESTION: "Can you tell me any info about a tree that will get fishing worms on it every year? I can't seem to find it on the net because I can't spell it... something like fatoga, or phatogga tree. My dad had one when I was growing up and I transplanted it to my house. I understand that I have to purchase worms and place them on the tree the first year then they come back to lay eggs every year from then on..... Help!" Barb.

ANSWER: I believe you're thinking of a Catalpa tree. The ‘official' name is catalpa speciosa and is often known as Northern Catalpa, Western Catalpa or Hardy Catalpa. There's also a Southern Catalpa, sometimes called the Common Catalpa or Indian Bean. Catalpas will grow quite quickly, reaching 15 feet in the first seven or eight years. They can reach a height of 40 to 50 feet, although in the wild, Catalpas can grow as tall as 100 feet. Interestingly, the timber was often used for railroad ties as it is extremely resistant to rot. They like a sunny exposure and rich, well-drained soil. Not sure why fishing worms like them, though.

Reader responce from Mr. Charles Roth

BlankThe worms on catalpa trees are not in any way similar to the red worms found in the ground that are used for fishing.

Catalpa worms are large, fat, green worms that look very similar to a tomato hornworm. It is my impression that they are a natural pest/predator in catalpa trees and if not present naturally, larva may be available commercially.

Advise your correspondent that if they go to the Search Engine www.alltheweb.com and insert the phrase "catalpa tree worms" (quotes not needed) they will get 311 web pages that should tell them about everything that they need to know about catalpa worms and may also provide a source for obtaining larva of the Catalpa Sphinx Moth, the source of the worm.

They have been correctly advised about their efficacy as fishing bait.


Charles Roth of St. Louis, Missouri May 15th, 2002

Catalpa Worms from Mississippi?From Charley Roth Home Base Bear Lake Whistling Trout Society Camp, Canoe & Brew

Grapevine 2002 2001 2000 1999 1998 1997 Catalpa Worms

Photos | Stories | Big Fish | Gear | Harding Cup | Links | Archive | Grapevine James asked me about wormming in Canada. I told him about bringing crawlers across the border. He asked about Catalpa worms. Catalpa Worms?:

Found only in the Catalpa tree, which grows only in the deep south, the catalpa "worm" is really a catapilla that exclusively eats the leaves of the Catalpa tree, spins communal cocoons, and emerges as I don't know what. Tough in texture, although fuzzy to touch, they sport a black head and tail with a neon green strip down either side of its black back. When put on a hook, they ooze a bright fluorescent green fluid that smells sweet and tastes like, again, I don't know what. Will wiggle forever on a hook.

They can be preserved alive in a good old boy type cryotherepy by placing them in cornmeal packed in a glass gallon pickled pigs foot jar and frozen indefinitely. When the jar is opened and the worms are removed from the meal and placed on the warm boat bottom or seat, they thaw and become as lively as the day they froze. Bet customs would scratch their heads on that one.

People have them in back yard trees, and they are hard to find. I did find one or two sites on the net by searching catalpa, there are a few people around here that have trees. I hope to be able to buy some before august.

Visit the website for Bear Lake Wilderness Camp at http://www.blwc.com

Olinda Schroer from east central Missouri read our "Plant Man" column in the "Warrenton Journal" - she writes:

Dear Sir: The enclosed article apperared in 05-15-02, issue of the Warrenton Journal, Suburban Home Section. We have/had Catalpa Trees that are quite old. The "worm" on the catalpa trees are green worms and at maturity are 3-4 inches long and 1/2 inch (approx) in diameter. The worms are used for fishing. I even stored the worms in a container in the fridge and used them later for fishing. These worms can defoliate a tree. The tree does produce more leaves. One summer the worms defoliated one tree three times that summer. It did not kill that tree as we thought it might. They are nice trees but are 'messy' at times. When the flowers fall and the worm excrement and the worms fall to the ground or sidewalk.

Sincerely Olinda Schroer

P.S. That lady should buy the artifical catalpa worm for fishing.

"Re: Catalpa worms. In the deep South, Catalpa trees are parasitized by Catalpa Worms. They are reputed to be excellent fishing bait when in season. I've never used them myself but have friends who swear by them." – Larry Pardue (former Plant Information Specialist, the New York Botanical Garden)

"My father, now 95, had numerous catalpa trees here in Jonesboro, GA, an Atlanta suburb, for many years, raising them for the worms. He would harvest the worms one by one in the summer, put them into a bucket of moist sawdust, and store them in a refrigerator in his shop. The cool calmed them down. Then he sold them when anyone wanted them. He said he'd watched the bug lay eggs. He thinks that a kind of moth (candle fly, he called it) comes, gets on top of a leaf near the edge of a leaf and lays eggs up under the leaf. These develop into worms which eat the leaves. This may be more than you ever wanted to know, but I thought it would be fun to pass it on." – Hugh Waddy