Memere’s Catalpa Trees

Our family has a tradition of sharing our catalpa trees. We have named them “Memere’s Catalpas”, because they have family roots. Their roots are real roots and generational. This is the time of year when we patiently wait to see our catalpa trees spring out of the long winter. They are the last of the spring foliage to burst forth with leaves, but once they start to show their stuff, they will display abundant blooms with stunning orchid like flower clusters.  Reading an on line information source claims that the trees were first cultivated in North America in 1754, when the wood was used for fence posts and railroad ties, because of its resistance to rot and the tree’s fast growth rate. Indeed, the catalpa tree is a rapid growing deciduous tree. We have grown over a dozen of the catalpas in the yards of four houses we have owned in Maine. Plus, we share the sprouts that pop up from the trees’ seeds.

Catalpa trees

Catalpa tree in full bloom at our home  in Topsham. Our trees are related to Memere’s Catalpas.

All of our trees are sprouts we received from Memere’s catalpas. My mother in law, Rose Anna Morin L’Heureux, grew two catalpa trees on either side of the walkway leading to the family’s Sanford home. These trees are prolific seed producers; they graciously shed long beans filled with seeds. As a result, nearly everyone in our family who has room in their yards to grow the catalpa trees can rightfully claim to have a sprout from “Memere’s Catalpas”.

People who are walking past our Topsham home frequently stop to ask about the four catalpa trees in the front yard. One lady even called a local tree nursery to inquire about how to buy one. Our family’s catalpa trees are connected to a heritage started in Sanford, where Memere began the tradition. As a result, four generations of Memere’s trees connects us to the two she grew in Sanford. Each of her five children, her grandchildren and even a few great- grandchildren grow at least one catalpa tree, all from Memere’s trees. “We don’t grow just any catalpa trees,” said granddaughter Ann Lapointe Frechette. “We want Memere’s trees.” Memere’s two catalpas grew to more than 30 feet high, sprawling over the gabled roof of her family’s screened front porch. The catalpas provided welcome summer shade to the family’s home in Sanford’s Ridgeway neighborhood. Memere Rose transplanted her two trees from sprouts she dug up and took with her when the family moved in 1936, from Roberts to Freemont Street. Shade notwithstanding, Memere especially admired the tree’s lovely blossoms. She beamed like a sunflower at high noon when the exquisitely fragrant blossoms adorned the trees, in early summer. “Les belle fleurs,” said Memere about the catalpa’s fragrant blooms. Our family’s tradition of growing Memere’s Catalpas began when we noticed the sprouts appearing in the yard.  The sprouts grow easily from the large bean pod seeds they throw off each summer, after blooming. Rather than mow the sprouts down, we began transplanting them. In fact, we discovered how surprisingly easy they are to transplant. My daughter-in-law actually left one of the tree sprouts in a pot in her garage over the winter; but it was still healthy enough to grow when she planted it in her Scarborough yard the next spring. They don’t require much maintenance or special soil. The trees grow amazingly fast. Actually, one particularly cold winter seriously damaged Memere’s two Sanford trees, but the roots sprouted into two nearly full-grown replacements in about six years. In our 20 years’ experience growing Memere’s Catalpas, we can raise a small twig into a medium-sized blooming tree within about six years of planting. Memere’s Catalpa trees help our family to stay connected by our genealogical roots. Of course, we’re on the lookout for those tree sprouts to show up in the lawn or flower beds so we can pass them along to other family members. There’s always room for one more of Memere’s Catalpas in our family’s yard. In Sanford, two 40-foot high descendents of her trees are growing in the yard at Storer and Main streets. Other descendents from the trees continue to grow in Sanford, Brunswick, Topsham, Scarborough, and Alfred, as well as in Massachusetts and Virginia. They are a special part of our family’s Franco-American roots.

In our home, summer officially begins when Memere’s Catalpas bloom!

Juliana L'Heureux

About Juliana L'Heureux

Juliana L’Heureux is a free lance writer who publishes news, blogs and articles about Franco-Americans and the French culture. She has written about the culture in weekly and bi-weekly articles, for the past 27 years.