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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One cultivar is invasive, others are not!
I am sure this review is well meant. However, it is VERY misleading. Paulownia tomentosa is invasive. Paulownia elongata is not. Unfortunately, P. tomentosa has given all cultivars of this tree a bad name. Paulownia elongata is sterile and will not spread seedlings. You just need to be sure you plant it 10 feet away from house foundations, driveways, and sidewalks. You can then enjoy this great, fast-growing trree. This kind of misinformation is the reason why Paulownia elongata is so difficult to find from reputable sellers. This site should know better than to spread incorrect information.
Because of softness Paulownia's wood, It's easy to work on. However, the presence of high amounts of silica in some of these trees may create patches on wood edges when cutting. However, with a variety of adhesives, these patches can be well repaired.
Not true! NOT INVASIVE....Not sure where this author received his information, but totally incorrect! Have had them in our nursery for 10 years and have planted several with no ill affects, have one in my own yard! JT
It's not Kudzu!
Well I live in Tennessee and Have had 2 growing on My property for 14-15 Years now. I have NOT noticed any off shoots growing any Where else on My property. The only FACT I see That was true ( to My knowledge ) is The roots. Yes They grow at ground level. This is The reason I was researching This tree. Only has given small amount of blooms also Which I regret. We purchased This from a birds & blooms magazine.
Hollow trunks also make these trees dangerous!
Thank you for warning people about the terrible Empress tree. I live in Colorado and my neighbor planted one of these trees before I moved into this house. It is a disaster. It is very near to the property line and spreads through roots and seeds. During storms, all its weedy hollow trunks sway dangerously and rub and hit against each other. At the first sign of frost, all the huge leaves drop, creating a terrible mess. I have to keep killing its offspring in our yard and gardens. This tree is life-threatening in any area with winds or storms, i.e. everywhere. If you insist on planting it, you can expect an eventual lawsuit from your neighbors!
Author is wrong
The "ecosystem gardener" who wrote this is quite ignorant and should not be writing anything for distribution. Do not believe him; do your own research to decide for yourself. Paulownia Elongata is a beautiful, controllable species with many great benefits.
Use paulownia to make music
Paulownia used to make long zithers like Gayageum, Guzheng, and kotos will elevate the local reputation of this wood. If you want them gone then tell them it is time to face the music. Find the right luthier and enjoy.
Know your species
Ignorance is misleading. Paulownia Tomentosa is INVASIVE, and yes was the first breed of Royal Empress tree in the country. The seeds where used for packing material and was shipped via train track all over the country spreading itself along the way. Since then, paulownia has been put through vigorous breeding programs around the world to alter its traits. Now there is Paulownia Elongata, which is not invasive because the seedlings growth period is almost impossible for nature to nurture. Other breeds have sterile seeds, can withstand negative temperatures and have been tailored to different ecosystem requirements. 9501 is a great breed for Midwest. PLEASE UNDERSTAND A TOPIC BEFORE YOU DISSEMINATE INFORMATION!!! Paulownia is the future of the timber industry because it is renewable and sustainable.
My neighbor(whom I love) wants to plant one very near the property line. I already bust my a$$ pulling weeds and I sure as heck don't want little runners popping up everywhere. Not only that, I'm on the ARB & I'm pretty sure the other members are just going to approve because of who it is. Am I let reacting? There's contradictory info all over the freaking internet.
Your stated concerns are illfounded at best. The benefits and potential of these trees far outway any perceived negatives. Proper management is the key to any species. These trees can be beautiful! Livestock love to eat the leaves and thrive on them to my understanding.
How to kill root system
I had a 2 story paulownia removed stump and all Nov 2017. Now spring is here and there are suckers and what I am finding is an extensive root system that maybe under foundation of house. I am wondering how to rid these roots effectively safely quickly Anybody know?
"Also, of the two main varieties, Paulownia Elongata is a noninvasive variety, while Paulownia Tomentosa is invasive."
This fact by Slik needs to be emphasised I think.
Does anyone know if this tree is harmful for goats?
The dragon/ empress tree is only invasive in feilds as our native trees kill it off due to its high sunlight requiremnts. It provides both good wood as well as nectar for honey bees. It is a pioneer plant the same way that a pine tree is. If you plant a tree in a open feild odds are you will have more pop up along with pines. Not really a problem. I wish the author had his facts straight or maybe he just doesn't understand the true nature of this plant
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!