Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

The Empress

Hello Fellow Readers,

I visited William and Sarah of Bangor and admired a tree that I had never seen. They called it a Paulownia Tree (pronounced Pa-loan-i-a); Paulownia tomentosa is the Botanical name and is native to China. It’s also known as Princess or Empress Tree and I can see why. She has a commanding presence with smooth grey bark and striking 8 to12 inch, heart-shaped, deep green leaves. They bragged about how fast she grew. Research says about two feet a year but their Empress sprouted more like Jack in the Beanstalk based on the brief time they’ve had it.

Hardy in zones 5 to 9, the abundant early-spring lavender flowers smell like a hint of vanilla but are iffy in zone 5 (we’re a 5b despite what the USDA charts say). If yours is lucky enough to develop the 14-inch trumpet-shaped flower you can add them to your salad. Yup they’re edible. Think of it as climbing a 40 foot beanstalk (some grow to 60 feet) much like Jack did to snag a bag of gold coins.

Not only do Paulownia Trees quickly mature to provide a 40-foot wide canopy, they’re not fussy about soil pH but aren’t happy in heavy clay that drains slowly. Plus, they’re drought-tolerant once established. Sounds too good to be true Jack?

Paulownia tomentosa photo: PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources - Forestry Archive, Bugwood.org -

Paulownia tomentosa photo: PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources – Forestry Archive, Bugwood.org –

It’s true the wood is somewhat brittle and branches are vulnerable to wind damage causing twig litter. Plus branches can droop requiring pruning to allow for headroom; although the understory nook in their beautiful garden felt like a hideaway spot nook in an enchanted forest. Yes the shade is deep and grass may be tough to grow beneath the Empress. Maybe just as well and her bark is thin and can be damaged easily by a lawn mower or weed whacker. Her roots tend to grow close to the surface making lawn mowing challenging and can damage walkways or patios.

She’ll not give you a fall show as her leaves do not change color. The USDA Forest Service declared the Paulownia Tree ‘Weed of the Week’ In March of 2005 and she is now banned in Connecticut; due to invasively spreading through self-seeding. Fee-fi-fo-fum!

Still, I see the golden egg in Jack’s beanstalk as long as you can keep her under control.  Garden Dilemmas? askmarystone@gmail.com

Paulownia tomentosa, Empress Tree, Garden Dilemmas Ask Mary Stone, Garden Tips

William & Sarah’s Paulownia tomentosa
(The Large Tree) Installed @ 7 years ago

Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary

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