Paulownia


Stock status (May 2024)

General characteristics:

Hardy:Varies with variety, though the consensus is that all varieties of Paulownia trees will survive  -10℃ with ease.
Soil:Will tolerate a wide range of soil types, though prefer deep well drained sandy soils.
Growth:Exceptional, up to 3m per year
Height:Up to 30m plus
Biomass:Good firewood, can be coppiced, pollarded or logged
Lumber:Paulownia timber is high value with various uses
Wildlife:An abundance of early flowers for bees and insects

Common names

Also known as; Foxglove trees, Empress trees, Miracle or Phoenix tree

In Eastern and Southern Europe where summers are 25℃ even in early spring, rising to 35℃ in mid summer, Paulownia are exceptionally fast growing.
Being fair, I am on a North facing exposed slope here in West Clare Ireland and I know that others in Ireland have had better results. I’m still happy, though I’m not expecting to harvest valuable timber, or even firewood. What I will get is a fabulous display of large leaves and 🤞🏻 in a couple of years (it’s currently 2024) an abundance of purple flowers.

Paulownia Flowers phginlon Flickr

I’ve done a fair amount of research into when you can expect your Paulownia tree to flower with mixed results. One nursery says theirs flower from year three onwards.
Those I have seen in West Clare, Ireland, had masses of purple / blue flowers during 2020, which wasn’t a particularly severe one so far as frosts were concerned, though there were several severe storms and gales. They are mature, over ten years old.

Paulownia is a very popular tree grown by enthusiasts for their flowers and also their leaves, which depending on how the tree is cultivated can be up to thirty centimeters across.

Paulownia looking 230823

The protein rich leaves are also used as animal fodder.

There are several varieties, the six I have for sale are:

  • Tomentosa; is the most popular amongst gardening enthusiasts for the attractive floral display, the impressively large leaves and abundance of purple flowers.
  • Shan Tong; is grown more commercially for its timber which is highly prised for its toughness and lightness. Used for making surfboards, guitars and other musical instruments as well as furniture. It is a cross between Tomentosa (for growth rate) and Fortunei for the narrow crown and quality of the timber.
  • Pao tong; is considered to be amongst the most frost hardy, though I note frost tolerance is only an issue in Eastern European countries where temperatures regularly dip below -20℃. Paulownia Pao tong is also grown commercially for timber as with Shan Tong and is also a hybrid.
  • Nord Max 21; it seems every time I buy Paulownia seed there is a new hybrid variety, though this is a good thing, especially if you are a commercial grower, or a small holder growing for firewood. Faster straighter growth for either commercial timber or easily processed logs for firewood.
  • Elongata; is a natural variety. Like Tomentosa it is considered good for bees because of the abundance of flowers in early spring.
  • Fortunei; another natural variety who’s characteristics are tall, straight and with pale purple flowers.

NOTE all six varieties will provide good commercial timber. A technical cut as it is called down to 2cm from the base and pruning is required when they are 7cm or more in diameter to ensure straight trees without branching.

I like the open easy to walk though understory created by these deciduous trees. In winter when the leaves have fallen, a landscape not dissimilar to a beech forest.

Paulownia forest

I definitely want to promote agro-forestry here in Ireland and Paulownia are a forestry tree that lends itself to this. Indeed it is considered to be one of the most profitable uses of land, even if you only have a small area and keep a few chickens.

Paulownia forest tunnel

Paulownia trees are grown for biomass and they make good general firewood for the home stove or fire.

Paulownia plays a key role in agroforestry in China especially as shelter belt, though their usefulness also extends to a variety of uses including fish meal in integrated permaculture systems. This before they are harvested for their valuable timber usually before they are ten years old; a comparatively rapid return on investment.

NOTE I currently, mid 2021, consider Paulownia to be an experimental forestry tree for Ireland, though I have planted my personal experimental forest 😉

Other names for Paulownia trees include Empress tree, and in Japan they are know as Kiri, which specifically refers to the Tomentosa variety. Tomentosa grow rapidly, up to three metres a year, though they can be pruned and cut right back. If you do cut Tomentosa back to the base it encourages the leaves to become even larger; thirty centimetres across or more.

The variety Shan Tong is a hybrid, bred for even faster growth. In its native, ideal habitat, mostly south east Asia they can grow at six metres a year. Probably a more realistic growth rate here in Ireland would be two, possibly three metres a year. Still very impressive 😮