It’s late spring and everyone’s attention naturally turns to…WORMS!
All across Arkansas the big, beautiful blossoms of catalpa trees catch our attention. Last week I was wade-fishing a cool, clear creek and big clumps of whitish blossoms cascaded from catalpa treetop to the water’s edge along both banks. Beautiful!
A while back I visited Williamsburg, Virginia. Lo and behold, there on the historic streets in front of the historic homes were rows of Catalpa trees. I asked the tour guide why we see catalpa trees in so many historic settings. She had no idea what kind of tree they were, what good they might be, or why anyone would plant them. That seemed odd to me since those catalpas were a highly visible part of the historic fabric of Williamsburg. I thought they’d know something about them simply because they surely get frequent questions about them. When interpreting a historic structure or site, the landscape, landscaping, and the reasons behind those are an important part of the story. They give insight into the lives and minds of the original residents.
Here, at Historic Washington, you’ll find state champion catalpa trees. The gnarled, twisted trunks, supersized heart-shaped leaves, and huge blossom bunches around Greek Revival homes draw artists to the historic community to paint and have lunch at historic Williams’ Tavern. Back in the early years of the 1800s a boy was hired to carry the mail by horseback between Washington and Louisiana somewhere. He made the trip twice a week and would stop for a break in the deep shade of a grove of catalpa trees. Seeing the beauty and shade of the trees, he began to gather the seeds, bring them back to plant at Washington. This “Johnny Catalpaseed” is the reason for so many big, old, gnarly catalpa trees there. One big old catalpa tree is listed on the register of Arkansas historic trees as the ‘Mail Carrier Smith Tree’ in honor of this catalpa seed spreader.
However, the real value, the highest and best value, the joy of catalpa trees is…WORMS! But you knew that. Sometimes folks call them catawba worms. When you talk about them people’s eyes, and curiosity, light up.
Catalpa worms are tough-skinned and juicy, and free for the taking if you have a catalpa tree. The ‘worm’ is the caterpillar of the sphinx moth. The 2-inch long larvae are often so plentiful you can fill a gallon-sized, pickled pig’s-foot jar in minutes. They are juicy and delicious – to catfish and bluegills, and their tough skin lasts through many hits, bites and catches. One tough worm can last a long time. It’s their copious, gooey innards that the fish love, so break their head off and split their sides before putting them on the hook. Then look out Sadie … hang on for fishin’ excitement!
So, what are you interpreting at your historic site, just buildings?