Friday, January 8, 2010

Paulownia Trees

From In the Garden
Gorgeous flowers aren't they? As beautiful as they are they are not what draws me to the Paulownia ( Paulownia tomentosa) trees. Can you guess what first caught my eye...
about the paulownia tree?
It is not the neat looking bark with visible lenticels.
It is not the fact that this tree is billed as 'one of the fastest' growing trees anywhere. It also is not the fact that it is known as the 'Princess Tree'. The princess tree lore says that when you have a daughter if you plant a paulownia tree that daughter will have great luck her whole life and be a princess. No, that's not it. It is also not the fact that in Japan paulownia trees are used extensively in the making of jewelry boxes and fine and beautiful woodworking pieces. No, it is not that either. What initially caught my eye was the paulownia tree's winter interest-the seedpods!

On our way over the mountains and through the woods of I40 near the area of where the Tennessee and North Carolina borders meet is a huge stand of paulownia trees. The seedpods hang on the trees and look so striking that the uninitiated (me!) would think the seedpods were clusters of pecans. I thought how cool! Let's stop to get some of those pecans! Of course I know pecans do not hang on trees in this manner and don't even grow in clusters but hey, I'd never seen a paulownia and had no idea what it was. Even after arriving in North Carolina with great help from my father in law, we simply could not identify the clusters and the type of tree that grew the cool seedpods. It wasn't until I took some of the seedpod clusters to my garden club that Sandy (a kind garden mentor) identified the tree. It's a Princess tree, aka paulownia! That was the first time I had ever heard of a 'Princess Tree' and was my first introduction to paulownias. Mystery solved-thank goodness!

I share this story because I think perhaps others may wonder what type of trees grow the cool seedpods along I40. This post has been a few years in the making because I had to travel I40 in order to photograph the seedpods. Yes, paulownias grow here in Clarksville and many other areas of Tennessee, but no where else in Tennessee are they as striking as in East Tennessee along I40. We recently traveled I40 because we all spent some time in the Smokies during the Christmas season. More on our Christmas in the Smokies next week.

Enjoy the winter and the sight of this interesting tree if you have one growing near you because it is very cool tree year round. This is not the best landscape tree. These trees are very adaptable and will grow just about anywhere there is disturbed soil so they have a tendency to take over and are even considered invasive in some circles. Paulownias are also messy trees and not long lived as far as trees go. I personally do not have one in my garden but do enjoy them along side the roadways. The next time you travel along I40 just look for the cool seedpods of the paulownia....

in the garden....

P.S. As I wrote in my post I do NOT grow the paulownia tree but I do enjoy looking at it. It is listed as a severe threat on the Tennessee Exotic Invasive Plant List. It will overtake natives. It is quite clearly an adaptable plant as I have noted. It is also already growing here-on public lands and private lands but not mine. Despite it being listed I still enjoy looking at the plant and find it most pretty. That being said, would I plant it or recommend it? NO! If you see it growing on your property you might wish to eradicate it but it is not my place to tell anyone to do this. I've never done this on the blog because I would not like someone telling me what I can and can't plant in my garden. We have freedom in this country-we have choices and I believe everyone has to exercise their right to choose while considering the effects the choice may have on others. I've provided the information on this tree, now it is up to readers of this blog to act responsibly when planting or growing invasives-YOU-the reader-make the choice. Until paulownias are outlawed it is still a choice for a landowner to plant it or not. EACH state has their own list of exotic invasives. I have posted on this resource for Tennessee in the past so I am well aware of the invasiveness of plants. I suggest anyone interested in growing this tree should consult their state list and make a judgment on whether they grow it or not. My choice is no, but I will still admire those seedpods when I see the tree:)

39 comments:

  1. Would they be hardy up here?

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  2. You've done it again, Tina--introduced me to a plant I've never even heard of before! If my youngest daughter had known of these trees years ago, she would have been upset I didn't plant one for her. But my "princess" seems to be doing okay without any good luck charm:)

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  3. I love the beautiful flowers, wonderful fragrance and interesting seed pods but yes they are indeed invasive.

    I am glad the In The Garden team is posting again and hope all of your holidays were good.

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  4. I saw them too a couple of years ago and the pods piqued my interest. I thought "Grapes? In November?" haha
    It took me a while to figure out what the trees were. They are beautiful. Too bad they have an invasive nature--just like another beautiful tree, hardy here in the North, ailanthus aka "Tree of Heaven."

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  5. You are forever teaching us something new! Interesting tree.

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  6. They can be very invasive as others have said. They were all over East TN when I lived there. Pretty trees but they quickly overwhelm any natives or non-invasives.

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  7. Dawn, My Dirr book says they are hardy from Zone (5)6-9. They may die back in Zone 5 but resprout from roots. These trees are billed as growing 6+ feet per year in all the catalogs you get. It is the wonder tree, but they sadly don't tell you they are messy and invasive. Not sure if they would be less invasive in Maine but the seeding capacity of this tree is staggering.

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  8. Did we see one of these trees in New Harmony when we met in '08? They are lovely trees and remind me a little of the mimosa trees which seem to grow everywhere in the South. They tend to spread their seeds all over the place too.

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  9. A beloved tree in Asia with many medicinal and symbolic uses. A brew of its leaves is thought to promote hair growth and prevent graying, and a tea from its fruits is used to cure bronchitis.

    In Korea the branch of a Paulownia tree is carried by visitors when a mother passes away. And many an Asian bride carries a box made from this fabled tree.

    Didja know that the wood is so precious that it was illegally harvested in Pennsylvania and Maryland a few years ago? The thieves struck in the middle of the night and were reaping thousands of dollars for their efforts. Hope nobody down there finds this out :-)

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  10. I also like the seed pods, very interesting and would have caught my eye also. Usually a fast growing tree is also a short lived tree but with it being invasive I guess being short lived would be a plus.

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  11. What pretty trees! I think I've heard of Princess tree before, maybe they are in the Japanese Gardens here? Now I'll be interested to look for them next time we go. It was interesting to learn so much about them and how they are used, sounds like a great tree.

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  12. I must keep my eye out for them the next time we head to the Smokie Mountains! I dont recall seeing them but have never been there beyond Oct so with the trees full of leaves, I must have not noticed them.... Interesting....

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  13. The USDA "Nonnative Invasive Plants of Southern Forests/A fired Guide for Identification and Control lists this as an invasive and has recommendations for eradication with herbicides. You can request a copy via an email to pubrequest@srs.fs.usda.gov) or download it at website http://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/fia/manual/exotic_pest_plants.htm

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  14. It has been a long time since I heard the word 'lenticels'.....maybe not since college? I enjoy seedpods on a tree although many people want trees without them, I feel that seedpods add so much interest. What a beautiful tree for so many reasons.

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  15. I really love the blooms! I've never heard of this tree, it's so pretty I can't imagine why we don't see them everywhere.
    Marnie

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  16. Rose, Glad she has done well!

    Thanks Les! The break was a very good thing though and I suspect we'll be taking more occasionally.

    JulenaJo, Yes! They do look just like grapes. So cool!

    Darla, I figured out while I was on break one of the reasons I blog is to share info and teach I guess. There are two other reasons but I'll share them later.

    Dave, It is cold! Yes, invasive indeed they are.

    W2W, I don't remember seeing one but then my memory is going rather quickly:0

    Carolyn, I love this kind of information. Thanks!

    Mom, I think it is good too for sure!

    Catherine, Possibly you might find them in Japanese gardens. They were introduced some 70-80 years ago and have spread on the eastern seaboard. I am not so sure they've reached the pacific northwest but might be planted there. Keep an eye out though.

    Skeeter, You can't miss them once you know what you are looking for. They are all along I40 even before the Smokies and I'm sure on I24 too.

    Anonymous, Thank you so much for the invasive pest information. It is a good thing to be aware of and to refer to. We have one in TN which I access occasionally-before planting new and unknown plants.

    Noelle, Yup, a college word but I still attend and for some reason like the word:) Brings back memories though huh?

    Marnie, I suspect you'll see them before too many years have passed. They are a spreading.

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  17. Food that tastes good is often bad for our health; plants that look good are often invasive... It's not fair!

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  18. I'd heard of this tree but only because they grow fast and if you cut them down each year the leaves that appear are large so good for a tropical looking border. Didnt realise they flowered so nicely let along had fab seedpods

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  19. Tatyana, So true!

    Helen, The leaves on the paulownia are indeed large. Quite tropical and neat. It does grow fast and flower wonderfully-but one must know how to look for the trees or they can be passed by for some reason. Not sure why.

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  20. Hi Tina, Glad you added the invasive info at the end. We have so many of these Paulownia growing along the highway in our area. I am a fan of purple flowers, the first time I saw these I thought they were Wisteria. (Another invasive....) oh well, the flowers are pretty.

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  21. Tina,
    I think have a small cluster of these trees about 40 ft tall. Saw the blooms on the ground this summer. I think I have cut it down in the past only to grow back. The blooms are so high you need binocs to see them, might be the shady light they get.

    I looked this plant up and retrieved this paragraph:
    The soft, lightweight seeds were commonly used as a packing material by Chinese porcelain exporters in the 19th century, before the development of polystyrene packaging. Packing cases would often leak or burst open in transit and scatter the seeds along rail tracks. This, together with seeds released by specimens deliberately planted for ornament, has allowed the species to become an invasive weed tree in areas where the climate is suitable for its growth, notably Japan and the eastern United States.[1]

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  22. Sigh...another invasive exotic plant that's gorgeous to look at... Out here California way we have a number of startlingly gorgeous plants that are really bad news in their invasiveness. Getting the word out is a great defense. Also, most of our nurseries out here refuse to sell most of the really bad news plants, pretty or not.

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  23. Hi Tina, I've seen these trees in the Smokies around Cherokee. They seem to thrive along creeks/rivers. That's where I first saw them. I think the flowers are pretty & they do have large leaves. The leaves caught my eye first.
    A lady that was made an honorary Cherokee corrected my pronouncement of the word. She is also the main one instrumental in getting the Cherokee language taught in schools on the reservation. It had stopped being taught & was a dying language. She was very nice & so learned about different subjects. She was a delight to converse with. I only wish I could remember her name.

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  24. Tina,
    What beautiful flowers!! A beautiful tree, sad to hear it is invasive in your area. But, how lovely they must be when growing in a large group. I was browsing the books on Amazon yesterday and saw the book "Lives of the Trees: An Uncommon History" - which features many wonderful trees. The author investigates their names and meanings, their legends, and how dependent we are upon them, and they upon us.

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  25. So interesting--we do not have that tree here. Too bad it's invasive. Of course, some invasives are pretty, like damesrocket here. I'm curious about the seed pods and will Google now.

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  26. WHy is it that some of the things we love are not the best ideas to have around? Kind of like yummy desserts. It sounds like a great tree to look at but you wouldn't want to own one, just enjoy it from afar.

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  27. Beautiful & pleasant flowers.....

    Ash...
    (http://asha-oceanichope.blogspot.com/)

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  28. What gorgeous flowers! and I agree with your stance on the invasives, Tina. There are some invasive wildflowers that I just love and I like to think that I would plant them responsibly if I choose to. It has lots to do with how the seeds are scattered and what you're doing to control it.

    Oh and I learned another new vocabulary word here today: Lenticils!

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  29. It is a striking tree Tina. I don't remember ever seeing one in person but last winter I remember wanting seeds after seeing a picture of the flowers in Thompson and Morgan seed catalog. Good to know it's "bad" habits. And thanks for traveling so far to get the seed pod photo!

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  30. I live in zone 5b, and while being on the very edge of any possibilty of it growig into a tree, there are some in peoples yards that I have seen with flower pods! I got my own and many said to get a catalpa instead, but ironically enough catalpa's are invasive in my area. :) I will be interested in seeing how tall mine gets since I coppiced it last autumn.

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  31. Can I eat the large leaves from the Paulownia tree? I heard they are very nutritious and animals like them, so will it work OK for Humans? Thanks.

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  32. Fransisco, I had never heard of eating the paulownia tree leaves so I have no idea if they are edible or not. I've not tried them. If you find out please let me know if the leaves are edible. Thanks.

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  33. although these trees do grow wildly and are considered invasive there is an alternative. we have planted numerous trees around houses and properties we own and have not had a single wild tree sprout up from any of seeds. not sure if it has to do with the fact the plants we got from growers were actually clones or what.we have had a couple that sprouted up a couple feet from base of tree but we figured out those were actually comin from root of main tree. and come on what other tree can basically shade entire side of house after only 3-4 yrs from a 6 inch seedling.

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  34. Thank you! I've spent an hour on Google trying to put a name to this lovely tree while driving that same stretch of I40 TN/NC :)

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    1. You're welcomed! It can be quite difficult I totally understand. They must be pretty this time of the year while in bloom.

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  35. What appears as these same trees line the rocky cliffs of Black Mountain NC on I40.

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    1. Yes indeed Beta user, they are quite prolific along I40 in that area. Good observation!

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  36. These line the rocky cliff in Black Mountain on I40

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