Basic Information
Tree ID: 
Genus and species: 
The empress tree, also commonly known as the foxglvoe, princess, or kiri tree, originated from western and central China. Following its introduction to the United States, it has become popular because of its highly decorative floral blooms as well as its ability to grow extremely quickly. It is known for its extremely large leaves and pale violet flowers, which typically appear in late spring. Each of its capsule fruits produce up to two thousand winged seeds, which were also historically used as a packing material by Chinese porcelain exporters.
Holt Sakai
Collected Data
Tree shape: 
Date of tree entry: 
8.50 m
Diameter at breast height: 
0.27 m

The tree's rough bark is relatively thin and colored a grayish-brown. Shallow furrows separate raised surfaces of the bark, which is the outermost layer of the trunk's periderm. The ridges are about an cm wide and are separated horizontally by smaller grooves. The bark of younger branches is much smoother and is marked with very prominent lenticels.
Twigs & branches
The olive brown twigs and smaller branches are fairly brittle, and the larger branches can droop and are fairly pone to breakage. As a result, mature trees are often structurally ustable and usually live no longer than 70 years. Twigs are glabrous (no pubescent hairs, etc.) except arround the budding tips. White lenticels (pores for gas exchange) are highly prominent on the younger branches and twigs.
Leaves are opposite and paired in arrangement. The leaves usually have shapes between ovate and cordate. The pattern of venation is palmate, and the leaf margins are usually entire or shallowly lobed. The leaves of the Empress tree are deciduous, meaning that they are shed annually during the winter to conserve energy, although there is not a significant color change during the fall.
Reproductive Structures
The flowers of the empress tree are showy, fragrant blossoms that are pollinated by insects. The pale violet bell-shaped flowers are about 1-2 in long with faint yellow stripes lining the interior of each of the five petals. The flowers are perfect, bearing both male and female organs, and the empress tree is thus classified as hermaphroditic. The flowers are produced at the ends of twigs in upright panicles about 0.5-1.0 ft long.
The fruit of the Empress tree is a four compartment capsule (dry fruit) that matures from light green in late spring to dark brown by fall. The capsule contains thousands of tiny winged seeds, which are easily dispersed by wind or water. After the capsule breaks open during fall, the empty capsules typically remain attached through the winter. A mature tree can able to produce up to 20 million seeds per season.
  • winter
  • Spring
  • Summer
  • Fall
Natural range of distribution: 
Following its introduction during the 19th century, the empress tree has been highly successful in North America, where it grows through the eastern United States from Texas to Connecticut. It is quite tolerant of drought and acidity, and adventitious buds from roots allow it to survive fire. As a result, it is considered ecologically as a pioneer plant. It is often found growing along roadsides, stream banks, and the edges of forests.
Origin, history, and uses: 

The empress tree originated from central and western China, where historical records indicate that it was highly prized for its medicinal, ornamental, and timber uses. The wood of the tree is valuable to carvers, particularly in Japan and China where its wood has been incorporated into many artistic carvings as well as musical instruments (such as the koto). 

Carl Peter Thunberg, a student of Carl Linnaeus, traveled with Dutch East India Company in 1775 to Japan where he stayed in the Dutch trading post located on the island of Dejima. Nearly a decade later, he described his encounter with the flora and fauna of Japan in “Flora Japonica”, including paulownia.

Although the West first discoverd the tree through the writings of Thunberg, the seeds of the tree were not introduced to the West until 1834 when Henri Francois Neumann planted it in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. Seven years later, the 20-foot tree flowered and its seeds were planted to raise over 20,000 seedlings. It did not take long for the empress tree to spread to the remainder of the west.

The genus was named Paulownia by the German botanist Philip Franz Siebold, who also worked for the Dutch East India Company. It was named after Princess Anna Pavlovna of Russia, who married into the Dutch royal family.

Interestingly, the small feather seeds were used as a packaging material by Chinese porcelain merchants in the 19th century. Because the shipping containers would frequently leak during transit, the seeds of paulownia were rapidly distributed along rail tracks and other routes of transport.

Flowers tend to bloom during the months of April and May, depending on the local climate, and the leaves shortly emerge from hairy buds that formed during the previous summer. Following pollination, the fruits of the tree mature through the summer and fall. After the leaves are lost during late fall, the fruit capsules typically open during winter.

Breen, Patrick. “Landscape Plants: Paulownia tomentosa.” College of Agricultural Sciences, Oregon State University. Web. 23 Apr. 2017.

Marsh, David. “Paulownia.” Parks and Gardens UK: Knowledge, Inspiration, Conservation. 16 May 2015. Web. 23 Apr. 2017.

“Paulownia tomentosa.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 7 Feb. 2017. Web. 23 Apr. 2017.

“Princess Tree.” Southeast Exotic Pest Plant Council. University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Web. 23 Apr. 2017.

Swearingen, J., Slattery, B., Reshetiloff, K., and S. Zwicker. 2010. “Princess Tree.” Plant Invaders of Mid-Atlantic Natural Areas, 4th ed. National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Washington, DC. Web. 23 Apr. 2017.

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