Native Alternatives to Invasive Paulownia (Princess Tree)

Paulownia (Princess Tree) Very Invasive. Do NOT Plant

Paulownia (Princess Tree) Very Invasive. Do NOT Plant

The Problem with Invasive Plants

The majority of my time (and therefore the bulk of what my clients paid me) in various gardens in which I worked was spent removing invasive plants. As a matter of fact, the removal, control, and eradication of invasive plants are a huge expense for many communities, states, and the federal government.

Who pays these bills? Taxpayers do.

This means that a large amount of our tax dollars is being spent trying to control invasive species. In the United States, the estimated cost of controlling invasive species is $138 billion per year, introduced plants cost approximately $23.4 billion in annual crop losses, and invasive species now occupy more than 100 million acres and are spreading at the rate of 3 million acres every year.

Even if each of us could only help one person gain awareness of the damage that is caused when these garden plants escape into our natural ecosystems, that would be a good thing. There are a lot of us. Let’s all get to work bringing education and awareness of the damage caused by invasive plants to those that are closest to us!

The Invasive Paulownia Tree

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 the Princess 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, the invasive Royal Empress Tree shades out and outcompetes native plant communities for resources such as water and nutrients.

Paulownia tomentosa 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 Princess Trees have gained a foothold along the wooded stream as I drive through my neighborhood.

The Royal Empress Tree 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 be saddened by the sight of them, as they are running rampant through many natural areas near me.

Sale of the invasive Princess Tree 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 in continuing to plant so many Paulownia Trees. Please use the contact form at their site to let them know how dangerous their actions are.

Native Alternatives to Invasive Paulownia Tree

Many native shrubs and trees make excellent alternatives to the invasive Princess Tree.  Examples include:

Contact your local native plant society for additional recommendations and for information on local sources of native plants.

Each of us can learn to make healthier choices for our gardens. We can learn to garden sustainably, conserve natural resources, and create welcoming habitat for wildlife so that we will attract more birds, butterflies, pollinators, frogs, toads, and other wildlife to share our space with us.

We can recognize that humans are not the only species that matters on this earth, and it is up to us to stop senselessly destroying their habitats, poisoning them, and making it very difficult for them to survive.

For me, it is learning to give something back. As a species we’ve destroyed so much wildlife habitat. We’ve chopped it up into smaller and smaller pieces so that very few species of wildlife can survive there. We continue to dump toxic chemicals onto our lawns and into our waterways. We have huge logging and mining operations in our national parks. We have a strange need to have a shopping center on every available open piece of land. We spew pollution from our cars and from some of our businesses.

Thus far, humans have been all about taking whatever they can, no matter the consequences to the other species who share our planet with us. For me it is more than time that we started giving something back to wildlife.

In every neighborhood and region of this country, there are plants on the “Most Hated Plants” list. What tops your list? Which plants to you devote entirely too much energy in an attempt to control it? Let us know in the comments below.

Also, make sure you hire a certified arborist for any tree removal you may be doing to remove invasive trees. Here’s an example of what can happen when you hire the wrong company to remove your trees.

Check out my new free online course Ecosystem Gardening Essentials, 15 free lessons delivered to your inbox every week, teaching you to garden sustainably, conserve natural resources, and create welcoming habitat for wildlife in your garden.

© 2009 – 2013, Carole Sevilla Brown. All rights reserved. This article is the property of EcosystemGardening.com If you are reading this at another site, please report that to us

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Comments

    • says

      Plantations of just one kind of tree are generally not very good at supporting wildlife. And plantations of invasive trees is a prescription for disaster.

      Tree Your World would be doing a much better service if they planted a variety of locally native trees and shrubs which would more closely mimic native ecosystems.

    • says

      IMHO given the vast areas of open disturbed ground humans have created in this country, and our complete lack of serious effort to reduce greenhouse gasses, using Paulowinia in a controlled plantation environment makes a lot of sense. We have a 46 acre church site surrounded by farm land and mowed fields which has been significantly re-contoured to build church buildings. We tried transplanting large maples to get shade where we needed it quickly and the all died because the combination of poor soil (clay) and inability to get folks to water them when dry spells hit. Introducing a few trees capable of growing 18′ in a single season could quickly pay off in terms of shade to south facing windows in summer (reducing air conditioning) etc. Keeping the trees in an area of lawn should do quite a bit to prevent theri escape. We already are fighting serious infestations of Buckthorn and Phragmites, and most of our local native species (oak and hickory) will not be likely to reach maturity before climate change has created a seriously inhospitable environment for them. We need to change our thinking about “native” in such a rapidly changing world. The attempt to preserve “locally native” species in the face of climate change is a loosing proposition.

    • Jerre says

      This article is total nonsense. First of all, although Royal Empress trees are indeed invasive, they are no more invasive than Maple or Oak trees. Second, the new plant that come from seeds are much smaller and less dominant in the natural environment than the mother tree. Third, Royal Empress trees absorb more carbon dioxide than any other tree which helps fight pollution. Fourth, these trees grow in just about any soil and are drought tolerant which makes them suitable for many areas where even native trees suffer.
      The hysteria over invasiveness is way overblown…if you need an excellent shade tree that grows quickly in your yard just get one and enjoy it.

      • says

        Jerre, if our purpose was solely to have a fast-growing shade tree that grew in many conditions your comment would make total sense.

        However, what we are trying to do here is to make healthier choices in our gardens, choices that do no harm to natural ecosystems or destroy wildlife habitat. It is very possible to have both beautiful gardens for human use that also provide habitat for birds, butterflies, bees, and other wildlife.

        Invasive plants are doing great damage to wildlife habitats around the world. It is our goal to stop adding to the problem
        Carole Sevilla Brown recently posted..The Traveling Birder

        • Jerre says

          There is no evidence that Royal Empress trees are destroying other plant species. It is true that some plant species do crowd out native species but they are usually vines or groundcover that grow rapidly temperate climates. Even those are limited to relatively small areas. To put Empress trees in this category is why environmentalists often get the label of alarmists…they regard anything that is not native and grows quickly as an environmental calamity in the making. Further, there are many native species like Virginia Pines and Blackberry that are extremely invasive and crowd out other native species because changing climate conditions are more favorable for them. I don’t here any hysteria over these plants even though their dominance can cause as much or more damage as a non native species. Bottom line is that plants operate under the same laws of nature that all life on earth does…and if you really want to whine about habitat destruction you should concentrate your efforts on the population growth of the human race- they are the most invasive species on earth.

          • Susan Solomon says

            I disagree with ‘Jerre’ who says that ‘to put Empress trees in this category (destroying other species) is why environmentalists often get the label of alarmists. . .’

            I believe environmentalists get the label of ‘alarmists’ most often because profit making companies work on it. I lived in Oregon for many years and heard the most outlandish and angrily delivered lies from lumber company reps as to how clear cutting was fine and caused no erosion or other problems. I lived in West Virginia for many years and heard about how ‘strip mining’, otherwise known as surface mining, was actually better for the environment than leaving it alone, because instead of pesky forest you now had grass for grazing. I lived in Florida and was told that the systematic use of springs by water bottling companies would ‘make no difference.’ I lived in Austin Tx and was told that rain run-off highly contaminated by nitrites and artificial fertilizers would not affect beautiful Barton Springs, whose natural cleansing behavior and natural wildlife has now been obliterated. Companies call environmentalists ‘alarmists’ so that they can continue to destroy nature and make oodles of money while doing so, and for no other reason.

            This being said, it is true that an understanding of various issues does change over time, and it is important to do your homework thoroughly before making a final decision about a particular subject.

  1. Rachel Mathews says

    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!

    R

  2. Vince Luchsinger says

    It all depends. Invasiveness is a localized situation. I’m a professional paulownia grower and have 6,000 of the trees almost ready for harvest. I’ve had almost no problem with volunteers, like maybe a dozen in16 years. Tennessee has some problems, and many well intended people are hysterical about this tree.I have 76 acres of growing plants, and suffer more from walnut, locust, mulberry and rose invasion. It has incredible wood properties, and we have a great demand for the wood. It’s being imported from China today.
    I’m president of the American Paulownia Association, and we have over a hundred serious growers.Check our web site. Our members are responsible growers who are chagrined at the antics of ill-informed. Vince Luchsinger, New Freedom, PA.

    • says

      Vince, respectfully, the Paulownia is much more than locally invasive, having spread from New York to Texas and Florida. It’s a major problem to ecosystems for all of the reasons listed above. I’m glad you’ve seen few “volunteers” but I’m sure the woodlands surrounding your property are suffering from the onslaught. When one looks at the problem with a priority of healthy ecosystems and fully functioning ecosystem services, I don’t see any responsible way to grow this because you cannot contain the seeds. “Responsible growing” has already given us the myth that Purple Loosestrife is now sterile so no longer invasive. I’m now seeing many myths and greenwashing from Paulownia growers, too. That is a huge shame.

      • John Gaver says

        This sounds an awful lot like someone who earns money on other timber products and is scared that the availability of stronger and cheaper paulownia wood will hurt the market for their more costly timber products and drive down the prices for their products.

        I have had a paulownia in my front yard for some years now. Not only that, but I live next to a “green space” and across the street from another. By “green space” I mean that it’s an area that the homeowners association doesn’t mow regularly, but where they only thin out the underbrush once a year. Furthermore, the prevailing winds when the tree blossoms, should carry any seeds from our front yard toward those green spaces. So if all this invasiveness garbage were true, then both green spaces should be thick with paulownia by now. IT ISN”T! I mean, with those big leaves in the first year and blossoms in later years, it’s not like I could miss one, if it were growing there. In fact, my paulownia is the ONLY paulownia around for miles, though I don’t expect that to be true for long, since every year when it blooms, I have people knock on my door, asking me what it is and where they can get one. I gladly tell them. I think that the neighborhood could do for more color.

        BTW, when I bought my paulownia, I was doing some research and found out that major lumber companies like Weyerhaeuser and Boise were actively trying to undermine the market for paulownia, not because they didn’t have paulownia planted, but because they knew that the availability of stronger, less expensive lumber would mean lower profits, even if they were the one who were selling it. It’s only logical that if a 2×4 costs half as much, then the seller will make half the profit on the sale. So naturally, the big players in the timber business are doing everything they can to undermine the paulownia market.

        Personally, since I am an enlightened environmentalist (meaning that I read more than just the spin form one side of the issue – I read the spin from both sides and then THINK), I think that the world could do with a lot more paulownia, since that would mean far less harvesting of old growth forests. It paulownia grows as fast in a timber plantation, as it did in my front yard, then they should be able to produce 4 or 5 harvests, before an ash plantation planted at the same time could produce one.

        To be fair, I happened to stray across this article, while I was searching for investment opportunities in a paulownia plantation. I’ve seen it grow in my front yard. I’ve read the literature (both pro and con) and I’m impressed. I think that if we are to save our indigenous forests, we’ll need to switch our major source of lumber to a faster growing tree that can produce lumber at a rate fast enough that we won’t need to cut down more indigenous forest. At this point in time, paulownia seems to be the lumber tree of the future. That’s why I want to invest in it. I think that it will soon replace ash as the lumber of choice, for building houses.

        • Carole Sevilla Brown says

          John, I am not at all denying that Paulownia may be a good lumber alternative. What we’re talking about at this site is not investment opportunities, but about making healthier choices in our gardens and communities, choices that will benefit and protect wildlife. Habitat loss by human actions and the spread of invasive plants is the leading cause of wildlife declines. Ecosystem Gardening is about learning to create welcoming habitats for wildlife in our gardens so that we will attract more birds, butterflies, bees, frogs, bats, and other wildlife, many of which are struggling due to our irresponsible choices in our gardens.

  3. says

    I imagine it’s pretty hard to see and admit a problem when you have a lot invested in not seeing a problem.

    I’d like to know why Vince, as a professional grower, is choosing to promote an imported decorative tree rather than a native one.

    Native plants are better for wildlife – they support insects. Birds eat the insects.

    Imported plants, with the potential for invasiveness (even if it hasn’t happened yet) are just for looks. Some might be happy with that, but I’m not. I value wildlife in my garden and countryside and I’d rather not pay taxes toward removing invasive plants people plant to look nice.
    .-= Alison Kerr´s last post ..Black Friday Duck Shopping =-.

  4. says

    Invasive species represent an unintended consequence of human disturbance of native eocsystems. The biological invasions are a symptom of an equally problematic assault on native systems: climate change. What will we do when we find our native species moving to new regions because of climate pressures becoming invasive by definition? (in the case of endangered species perhaps with human help)

    What we are trying to do is preserve the remants of once intact ever changing endogenous ecosystems. Like the farmer who has no use for a rose bush in a corn field, stewards (gardeners) of natural areas will have to choose to weed some species on an almost constant basis. The Paulownia is easily targeted as an undesirable weed of native ecosystems. Like the home owner who is aggrieved when the neighbor plants running bamboo on the property line next to the perennial garden, the natural area managers understabdibly work to reduce propagule pressure by calling for species’ bans in an attempt to freeze or at least slow down biological invasion.

    If we do not combine plant bans with plant removal resources, we ultimately will lose the battle, for it is actually “new” not yet introduced species on which we should be focused. Growers and sellers should work to offer alternatives to the Paulownia, but the industrial plantations will be hard to remove and the destruction will remain without a funded eradication effort.

  5. says

    Alison, I agree it’s hard to see a problem when you have an investment in short-term gain. It’s something we as a society need to look really hard at.

    Thanks John. Since we taxpayers spend billions of dollars every year in an attempt to preserve ecosystem function by the removal of invasive species, stewardship of the land should be the priority. I was just reading a great article you wrote on this very subject: Paulownia AKA Princess Tree, Heritage and the Future.

  6. Charlie says

    This tree is truly beautiful and I have one. I bought several for family members, but only one survived. Texas heat and drought can kill just about any bush. Most of them died the first year. The ones that I had to take care of – I ended up eradicating, but it was not easy. The roots shoot up sprouts everywhere – I mean everywhere.

    I have mixed feelings about this plant, pest, or tree. It really smells nice and puts out some beautiful blossoms. Many people have complimented me on this tree and they ask what it is. I tell them do not order or buy this tree because it is a blight upon the garden and domestic plants. It is a lazy tree to grow. They look at me strange and ask me why I keep it. Well, because it is just so damn beautiful. The same reason I keep my current wife. The minute she uglies up – I’m looking to cut her down.

    Sidenote – there is a myth that this tree brings good luck. I must admit when my trees were healthy, my business was booming and I just seemed to win at everything. The day after I cut those offspring down, my network crashed and I lost a couple of my large clients. I survived, but I told that one tree the minute bad luck or despair crossed my doorstep or business again, it was a goner and I’ll make it a birdbath and use the rest of the wood for bird feeders and birdhouses.

  7. Ruby DOVE says

    I WOULD LOVE TO KNOW HOW TO GET RID OF THESE PAULOWNIA TREES! THEY ARE POPPING UP EVERYWHERE.I PLANTED FIVE ACRES IN SOUTH GA.

    • Paula Hall says

      We only had one and then hubby put another one in the side yard. Last year he fell off the ladder trying to trim it. So after the new year the two trees were removed, stump ground and now we have all these little ones popping the ground. He has been digging up the yard trying to get rid of the new shoots. I finally decided to try spray oven cleaner. It will turn the new shoots black and krinkled within an hour. Now we wait to see if this will kill them down to the root… They are even coming up in our neighbors yard… I would not want to wish this on my worst enemy…

      • Francesca says

        Same here!!!i need this monster dead!!! The huge 6ft root is growing right towards the house!! And popping up all over the surrounding area! What can we do do eradicate this monster?????

  8. David says

    I did not like this tree on a new property I bought and I had them cut down, now the stumps and roots are TAKING OVER!

    How do I KILL them! I want them DEAD, 5 stumps has become 100’s of new sprouts some as large as 10 feet tall in just a couple months!

    HELP!

  9. Desperate in Ohio says

    I simply would like to know if the Paulownia will grow in the Ohio Valley. I live in Ohio, very near to Wheeling, WV and our 23 acre lot was absolutely bare when we bought it. (strip mined years ago) and while we have planted many types of trees, we also wanted something that would grow fast. The Paulownia sounded ilke the right choice. Ordered several last year and several this year. The ones from last year died back to the ground but came up nicely this year and are about 2-3 feet tall now. However, after reading so many posts about it, I’m concerned that it will die back to the ground EVERY year because of our cold winters. Is this the case or will this tree grow to be a mature tree (quickly) as most ads boast? Thanks

    • says

      Yes, the trees grow in Ohio. My husband’s family planted them years ago before we purchased their house. They are easy to grow but you have to trim and maintain. I really love these trees and wish people would not be replusive about them. We also have maple and other trees around our house. I just do not like the mulberry bushes that have overtaken the woods more than this tree. They are very difficult to get rid of though and I wish the family did not plant in the front of the yard. I love the one in the back yard though. Another person we used to know had one of these trees when they rented their house.
      Ohio Tree Lover recently posted..Ultimate Guide to Finding Native Plants

  10. Melis says

    It strikes me that ‘native’ is a relative term. Do we know that the current native species are indeed native or were they somehow brought to their current location from a different place before humans had knowledge of their current location? In other words, isn’t invasion by a species a natural occurrence? Sure, it is being accelerated in certain cases but replacement is not permanent, nor is it anything new. It kills me when we try to ‘save’ species that are really simply being evolved out by natural selection…yes, natural, mankind has been part of the environmental landscape for quite some time.
    It seems more unnatural to me to try to save a species. When I was a child I would watch nature programs and wonder why the cameraman did not save the poor prey from the predator. As I matured and grew wiser I realized that it was simply nature being filmed and that interfering in it’s processes would be more intrusive than not. Mankind is a part of nature; of course it’s actions have consequences. The earth can take it. It seems the height of arrogance to me to imagine that mankind must save earth…it will continue to rotate regardless of our actions I think. Will it change? Of course it will! It always has and that is the truly natural way of things.

    • Lidiya says

      if humans did not exist, none of the species would have found there way into places they do not belong as soon as they have. Yes they may have eventually, but what we have in one area is part of the area. plants from different areas taking over our native, natural to our area, plants, is our fault, and this has nothing to do with that predator/prey thing you have going there. Bringing in invasive species from other countries, just for ornamental purposes is stupid, no one thinks about the consequences to the environment at all. its just money money and more money. mankind is the dominant species on this planet, at we have to keep it in good condition and as healthy as possible for many generations to come. besides, it is our fault, the way the earth has turned out to be, and is continuing to become, so yes, it is our job to try to “save” the earth as you put it. but i say its doing the little we can to keep it from getting worse.

  11. says

    We have Paulownia tomentosa growing on our property in Northland, NZ. It is a huge problem here as well, and when it is cut down continues sprouting from the roots for a very long time

  12. says

    I have one and its been about 8 years now and it has never bloomed I live in Michigan and I read it should be cut back I have done both cut and not cut but still no blooms any reason why? I get th huge leaves and the hollow bark not invasive but I really would like to see it bloom. My neightbors wonder what the heck I’m growing. Any sugestions?

    • Nick says

      I hav planted three in the last 8 years. 2 did not have flowers for the first 3-4 years then all of a sudden, bam, thousands of flowers. No idea why. May be the weather or if you are fertilizing it.

  13. mike says

    The treeyourworld.com website is no connected to that group planting trees. I don’t know if the org. is still working or not, but please update your article to reflect this.

  14. says

    Wow. heated subject! As a homeowner living on “disturbed” land in the southwestern U.S. (on clay soil), I understand the desire for fast growing, drought tolerant trees. My parents actually have two Paulownias and, as yet, I not seen them take over the yard. That said, I also don’t see any birds nests in them. The scorpions seem to like them though…
    My opinion is that there is more to consider when it comes to landscaping. Our local wildlife (which includes bees, butterflies, birds, and migrating friends) often have preferences for their feed and nesting–sometimes to the extent of not failed reproduction in the absence of their necessary habitats. For this reason I choose native species. Humans should learn that it isn’t just their whims that need to be met.

  15. Nick says

    I have three of these trees. Planted them 8 years ago. They are big and have beautiful flowers.
    I live in an area surrounded by hundreds of wooded acres and open ground in Missouri. We have very high winds at times that would surely spread any seeds.
    I have yet to see a single volunteer growing anywhere.
    I have purposely tried to plant seeds or seedlings elsewhere and they nevertheless take.
    The invasiveness mentioned must be specific to certain climates or other factors because it is a non issue here.

    We do get a few large suckers in the spring from the roots which we just cut off.
    While the tree seems to have zero chance of repopulating via seed on its own , I could see it being an issue if you want to eliminate a single tree on your property because cutting it down does spur it to regrow new shoots from the existing roots when cut down.

  16. Steven says

    To my error I planted one of these Royal Empress trees. To my horror it drained all the moisture and nutrients in a 20ft by 20ft area, killing my beautiful crab-apple tree. I wish to know: How do I destroy this insideous plant. I have chain sawed it down but the roots keep sending up shoots. Short of digging up the roots, how do I kill this thing?

    • Jerre says

      The Royal Empress didn’t drain all the water and nutrients from your yard and kill your Crabapple tree. The tree died from some other problem. As for getting rid of the Royal Empress tree, it’s not that hard- just keep clipping any new growth and after one winter they won’t come back.

  17. liz says

    Periwinkle. The ground cover from hell that is sold in every stupid nursery I walk into here in California. It has beautiful purple flowers when it blooms and it takes over like ivy. When we first moved into our house, we had a small patch of it and I remember stupidly thinking, “How pretty!” 2 years later and the small section had turned into half my hillside. I had never really noticed the impact of invasive species until struggling with periwinkle, which by the way, is still taking over parts of our yard.

  18. Reggie Matheny says

    I think the ones that are speaking for the trees make more sense~~ the others just sound biased and using their bad personal experiences to dominate~~ Personally, I think ANY living thing (especially trees) need to be shown respect ~~ and not treated as vermin~~ and if it is growing there LEAVE IT IN PEACE~ if you don’t like more of em just keep it clipping it away~

  19. says

    I have one Empress tree. As far as invasiveness, I would have say that the bamboo that a neighbor planted far out ranks this tree in terms of invasiveness. I spend about 3 hours per week just wacking, spraying and digging up this stuff, which springs up like grass and grows in excess of 3 feet per week. It is almost impossible to kill.
    Cut the empress down, then spray roundup on the new tree, and it will be gone.

  20. Michelle says

    As I read these comments, some positive but mostly negative, about the royal empress tree, I now have mixed feelings about it. I do not have a single tree in my yard and want one and thought this one would be the perfect tree. Are they really that much of a pain? I’m in AZ. Does any one have any suggestions on any other tree I should go go with?

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