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Empress Tree

Paulownia tomentosa

pa-LONE-ee-ah toe-men-TOSE-eh
Common Name(s): Paulownia, Royal Paulownia, Princess Tree, Empress Tree, Kiri

Deciduous - Sun
Ht. 35 -65’ Spread 50’, 2-4 ft. trunk diameter

Habit: Very large, simple, heart-shaped, large leaf - 5-12” long. Typically quite velvety to the touch. Green above and paler below. Large, showy, upright clusters of purple flowers late spring to early summer. Very fragrant fruit 1 to 1 ½ inches long filled with (1,000s) of small seeds that are initially sticky and green, later turning brown and dry. Overall appearance (both the wood and the tree itself) is not too unlike Catalpa, another lightweight and porous hardwood. Very fast growing - as much as 7 feet a year.

Culture: Best in full sun. Grows well in wet, deep, well-drained soil. Drought tolerant. Aggressive ornamental tree that grows rapidly in disturbed natural areas, including forest, stream banks, and steep rocky slopes. Native to eastern Asia; also planted in eastern North America. Ohio is the northern limit of its adaptability. In Ohio, paulownia winterkills easily unless cold-hardy seed sources are used. Even then the plant can be damaged in an unusually cold winter.

Uses: Highly-prized lumber, fast growing shade tree, open spaces, colorful specimen tree.

Problems: Aggressive and considered weedy. Bark is easily damaged, mildew, leaf spot and twig canker sometimes. Biggest negative is that is considered an exotic, highly invasive species.

Notes: Environmentalists are justifiably concerned about it escaping into the wild. However, this tree has become a timber-crop plant being raised on plantations. It is a valuable species in the United States even though the lightweight wood is not used much here. It is the preferred wood for Asian lacquer ware.

Paulownia heartwood is typically a pale grayish brown, sometimes with a reddish or purplish hue. Pale white sapwood. Grain is generally straight, with a coarse, uneven texture. Very large pores give Paulownia a striped, porous look. Given its straight grain and light weight, Paulownia is extremely easy to work. However, due to a high silica content in some trees, the wood can have a strong blunting effect on cutting edges. Takes a wide variety of glues, stains, and finishes well.

Reported to be durable regarding decay resistance, with decent weathering characteristics, though sometimes susceptible to insect attack.

Paulownia wood is seldom offered for sale in the United States, though it’s actually grown on plantations and exported to Japan, where demand for the wood is much higher. Common uses include plywood, veneer, furniture, boxes, millwork/siding, musical instruments (electric guitar bodies), clogs, carvings and other small specialty items.

Paulownia was named for Queen Anna Pavlovna of Russia (1795-1865).


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