Known as the Princess Tree, Empress Tree, and Royal Empress Tree, Paulownia Trees are highly invasive and are destroying native ecosystems from Maine to Florida and Texas, as well as the Pacific Northwest. However, open almost any gardening magazine and you’ll find adds touting this tree as an “amazing, fast-growing, shade tree.”
It is this fast-growing nature that is causing so many problems for native ecosystems. Growing up to 15 feet in a single year, this invasive tree shades out and outcompetes native plant communities for resources such as water and nutrients.
It thrives in disturbed soils, is drought and pollution tolerant, and easily takes over riparian areas. Every spring when it blooms, I am dismayed at how many more of these trees have gained a foothold along the wooded stream as I drive through my neighborhood.
It can reproduce from seed or root sprouts, which grow very quickly. A single tree can produce up to 20 million seeds each year, which are easily dispersed by wind and water. Even though the light purple blooms are quite pretty, I have learned to hate the sight of them.
Sale of this plant is banned in Connecticut and it needs to be banned in all of the other states in which it has spread into natural areas. Continued sale of this plant is extremely irresponsible. If your local nursery is selling this tree, please inform them of how invasive and dangerous it is to our native ecosystems.
When Good Intentions Can Have Disastrous Consequences
I came across a website recently which has a great mission. Tree Your World is planting trees to sequester carbon dioxide in the hope of slowing global climate change. They are enlisting environmentally conscious affiliate organizations, corporations, schools, churches and individuals to join in their efforts to help nature help itself while profiting from the experience.
The problem is, they are planting vast plantations of Royal Empress Paulownia trees, which they describe as the world’s fastest growing tree. These plantations are creating a vast seedbank of this highly invasive tree, which will spread through native forests, riparian areas, and disturbed areas.
While they may be acting with the best of intentions, their actions are nonetheless very irresponsible.
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These trees only grow in zone 5-8 so right off the bat this article gives false information! The fact there is a sterile variety even further destroys the narrative of false information about a useful tree that deserves a better investigation of its uses!
Sterile version available
If concerned about propagation, there is a sterile version of the tree available called Paulownia Elongata.
The Paulownia seems to be as invasive as the Norway Maple and the Kudzu vine. Reference "Bringing Nature Home: How you can sustain wildlife with native plants" by Douglas Tallamy and Rick Darke.
Birds and insects cannot live on these imported invasive trees since their digestive system cannot digest the sap which is toxic to them.. Bees are already being decimated by toxic sprays on plants. Paulownia trees will just add to the ecological destruction of diversity.
after 3 years and 6 acres of Eucalyptus, I am going for Paulownia Elongata on my next 4 to 10 acres in Uganda.
I don't see any, but I'd like to.
I live in Florida and there are planted pines. Everywhere. A pine tree is good wood to work with aside from construction use. Now, the Paulownia tree is lightweight (close to Balsa weight), straight grained and has many more uses from building boats and surfboards to building beautiful furniture. I only wish there were more of it around! I have never seen a single tree in the wild and I wish I could because I would gladly take it off any ones land. That stuff is 7-10 bucks a board foot. I say we get rid of these ugly pine forest and plant something that will be more useful.
Don’t plant these
If you live near others- don’t plant these - our side neighbor had 2 side by side at our fence line- an off shoot free behind our home at fence line. Original planter cut his down & chopped the massive root clump that was pushing the fence up - hundreds of pop ups are all over my yard & another 2 beighbor’s Yards - do 3 other homeowners impacted by the choice of 1....???
I had three,cut down 2 now have one. They grow like weeds. But are beautiful.
Paulownia Most Hated...
I totally agree with the knowledge based views of Gerald Klingaman, retired Extension Horticulturist - Ornamentals. While analyzing plants, we have to leave aside activism. In almoat 180 years since its introduction to the US, after releasing billions and billions of seeds, how many trees do we have? 10,000, 50,000, or 100,000 in wild. And Paulownia fossils have been reported from Oregon and Washington.Let us enjoy monofloral honey of Paulownia (mind you our bees are not native either), timber, leaves for fodder, and beautiful flowers.
*Some are invasive, not all
There are some varieties that are invasive, so many online retailers clone their seeds from sterile tissue cultures. Also, of the two main varieties, Paulownia Elongata is a noninvasive variety, while Paulownia Tomentosa is invasive. Also the root system is largely localized, so unlike wisteria, it wouldn’t be a PITA to remove if you needed to.
You sound crazy to me if you don't like these amazing trees. I absolutely love these trees and will plant my whole 5 acres of land with it so suck on that!
It's not as invasive as you think
"In many parts of the southeastern states, this Chinese native has escaped cultivation and is listed as an invasive species. Its place in the ecosystem is as a pioneer species, so it favors highly disturbed sites such as strip mines and roadsides, but occasionally it will find its way to the woodsy margins of rivers and streams. Because of its need for full sun, Paulownia is a poor competitor with oaks, hickories, pines and other trees of a mature forest so it does not spread into established forests."
Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension Horticulturist - Ornamentals
Extension News - November 6, 2009
The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture
I grew up with these trees, sure you will see a few unwanted one here and there but I've never seen it taken over any area at all.
I see a lot of emotion in this article, but no citations of any study that shows that the spread of Paulownia harms the environment. (And BTW, even if you had that, I wouldn't believe you unless you tried to be objective and cited some other studies that maybe point the other direction, and then explain why they offer a weaker argument.)
Here in Utah we have borers that are killing whole mountainsides full of conifers, and it would be nice to have something to replace them with. Paulownia is grown for lumber. If you think it's bad for ecosystems, then cite some credible sources. Without citations, you sound like one more rabid city person with lots of emotion, a few talking points from liberal mainstream media, no facts, and no practical experience trying to tell us country folks what to do.
If you find a nursery that carries these trees, make sure to ask if it is. The tree can only propagate through the root sprouts I guess in wild areas and by sticking a new growth cutting in some water so it'll sprout roots. I enjoy my neutered Empress and have no isssues with un-wanted propagation.
Oh no I love Paulownias! Thankfully in the UK (as far as I know) they don’t cause the same problems… I think our climate prevents them from being such thugs…
Thanks for info – I had no idea!