The royal paulownia is known scientifically as Paulownia tomentosa. Other common names for the plant include empress tree, foxglove tree, princess tree and simply paulownia. They are part of the Bignoniaceae family. The tree originates in eastern Asia, and also widely appears throughout North America (from Montreal, Canada, to Texas, and along the Pacific Coast). It is classified as being an invasive weed in the United States.
The royal paulownia tree can grow 32 to 82 feet in height. The tree has big, heart-shaped leaves--all which have five lobes each. The leaves often appear in whorls of three. The flowers appear in the beginning of the spring, before the foliage. The panicles are between 4 and 12 inches in length. The petals are tubular and purple. The flowers have a musky, sweet fragrance.
The royal paulownia tree came into the United States to be used as an ornamental plant. It still is commonly used as an ornamental plant in eastern Asia, particularly in China. The wood of the tree is highly valued for specialty items in Asia. Logs of royal paulownia trees are often exported to Japan.
The Royal paulownia tree can be easily propagated via root cuttings. The wood is air curable and light, and does not crack, twist or warp. It is water-repellent and fire-resistant. The tree can be commercially harvested in two to seven years.
The royal paulownia tree grows best in USDA hardiness zones 5b to 9. The tree does well in soil that is both well-drained and moist. It does well in locations that receive partial shade or full sun.
A traditional Chinese custom is to plant a royal paulownia upon the birth of a baby girl. The rapid-growing tree reaches maturity around the same time as the girl. When she reaches marriage age, the tree is cut down and carved into articles for her dowry.