Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Featured Plant- Paulownia tomentosa

If you're looking for a plant that makes a bold architectural statement, Paulownia tomentosa may be for you.  But first make sure you have plenty of space.

Paulownia tomentosa is actually a tree that can grow to over 80 feet tall.  It is considered to be the world's fastest growing hardwood.  It is native to China and a few of its common names are Empress tree, Princess tree, or Foxglove tree (because of its flower resembling a foxglove). The tree is hardy to Zones 6-11 and in these climates is considered invasive.  However, here in zone 5, it's not grown as a tree but used as a show-stopping garden plant that is pollarded or coppiced completely to the ground each season.  Some survive the treatment and some don't.  However, the roots of the Paulownia are capable of producing very fast-growing stems and the pollarding, or coppicing, results in vigorous new growth each year with massive oversized heart-shaped to lobed-shaped leaves, many times larger than those seen on a mature Paulownia.

In areas of the country where Paulownia can survive the winters, it is often found along railroad tracks.  In the 19th century, before the development of polystyrene packaging, the soft and lightweight seeds of Paulownia were used by Chinese exporters as a packing material.  Over the years, many of the seeds escaped from these packing crates and were dispersed along the rail lines where, in the proper climate, they rapidly took hold and the plant spread.

In China, there was the custom to plant a Paulownia when a baby girl was born as a way of honoring the Empress; thus, the name Empress Tree.  Because the tree is so fast growing, by the time the girl was eligible for marriage the tree was mature enough to cut down and use the wood to carve a variety of wooden articles for her dowry.

I saw several of these eye-ctaching Paulownias on the Garden Conservancy's Open Days event this past weekend here in New Hampshire and Vermont.  The one in the photo above is in the garden of Marc Hudson, in Westmoreland, NH and this one, at left, is in the garden of Bill and Eileen Elliott, in Hancock, NH.  If you're looking for a plant that will generate some conversation, this one will definitely stop garden visitors in their tracks!

To see more featured plants, click here.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Juniper Hill for helping me identify my garden!


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