Monday, July 14, 2014

Catalpa’s Spread in Japan, Grown from Seeds

It all started with the invitation from the Tokutomi Memorial Garden of Kumamoto. "Catalpa trees are in full bloom. Please join us for flower viewing with an ocarina music concert and other entertainment." I have wanted to see the Oe School remains where Reverend Sokabe studied (see Samurai Missionary post), so I decided on a visit.

After a 2 ½ hour bus trip from Kitakyushu, I finally arrived at the Garden. The original tree that the Tokutomi brothers planted fell victim to a typhoon but the descendant trees thrived well. The Kumamoto City homepage had photos of two catalpas from; l) nearby Idegawa river bank and 2) Hishigata Elementary School, 'Uekimachi.' Both are sibling catalpas more than 100 years old. In particular, the Hishigata School catalpa is 18 meters high and the trunk measures 336 centimeters in diameter and is noted as the tallest and widest tree in the report filed by Junji Imamura, a tree doctor, contracted by the voluntary group of Hishigata School students, supported by parents and teachers.

Junji Imamura also studied DNA of the nationwide catalpas and he discovered that they propagated from the same Tokutomi seedlings. The trees studied by Imamura included the ones in Kurume (Fukuoka), Isahaya (Nagasaki), Hiroshima, Aomori and other locations. I figured catalpa numbers in Japan to be around 100. However, when I searched under "Kisasage", the Japanese name, I counted more than 100 sites showing off their catalpa trees and flowers throughout Japan. There are trees in schools, parks, temples, and herbal gardens. Now, I have revised my figures to be in the thousands, including both species of Chinese and American catalpas. I think the Chinese catalpa is called "Jishu" but I could not verify it. Here is additional information about American catalpa.

I'm fascinated with the word "catalpa", which does not sound too American. I was right; it came from "Catawba", a Native American tribe of Sioux. There is the Catawba River in North Carolina, which flows into the Santee River in South Carolina and emptying into the Atlantic. My ex-employer had a plant close to the Catawba River, 70 miles west, so I know the area. There is some coal ash ecological residue in the Catawba River Basin today. The Catawba tribe is now settled in Rock Hill, South Carolina after their relentless land claims. Another Catawba tidbit is the mysterious Catawba worms! They are great fish bait that you can find on the catalpa leaves. The worms morph into sphinx moths.

Now the mystery is of how Reverend Joseph Niijima, founder of Doshisha University, came into possession of catalpa seeds. In the late 1860s, I read that there was a kind of catalpa craze that spread from New England, Ohio, Texas to California that seemed to be associated with the railroad industry. Reverend Niijima studied at Amherst, Massachusetts and he must have seen school children planting seedlings. Catalpa today is regarded as somewhat invasive, but back in the last century, not so. In less warm states, like New England, people had to take extra care and I read they rejoiced when catalpas were resuscitated under harsh conditions, likening catalpa as a phoenix.

Getting back to Hishigata Elementary School, the school slogan is, "We have the No. l Catalpa of Japan, the symbol of the Niijima/Tokutomi bonds of friendship between teacher and students. We will strive to be No. 1 in sports, in greening of the school and soaring high as we enter society." Hishigata School Baseball team won the local baseball competition in 2013.


Here is a note I received from my friend Don:

I received a question on trees which are in USA and Japan. I am gathering information. They seem to like warm, wet weather and are not prevalent in the cold northern climates. I will check with my friend in South Carolina. Meantime I am also checking out an American city named AZUSA near Los Angeles. I believe it is a tree, similar to what Yokohama has for its main street, ISEZAKI-cho.

The history says Japan used it for the bow of the Samurai. In America, we do not have info on usage. But ISEZAKI tree is much like AZUSA word. And the BOW was very important with Algonquin (“Are Kan Quayn" to be the bow and flint arrow point - the original name for America before Columbus).

The Catawba tree had fruit that natives used for fish bait because they resembled worms. It is also called a "fish bait tree" in the Carolinas.

Near Alabama the Indians had an area named TUSKEGEE. The history says it may have meant "warrior". I think it relates to TSUKA in Japanese for "a mound". These people were also known as "mound builders" and these mounds of earth are seen in many places throughout the Midwest. It would be "Mound trees---Tsuka Ki ga".

No comments: