Herbs & Plants

Foxglove Tree (Paulownia tomentosa )

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Botanical Name :Paulownia tomentosa
Family : Scrophulariaceae
Genus : Paulownia
Synonyms: Bignonia tomentosa – Thunb.,,Paulownia imperialis – Siebold.&Zucc.,Paulownia recurva – Rehder.
Common Name : Empress Tree, Princess Tree or Foxglove Tree; pao tong  in Chinese; kiri  in Japanese.
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Lamiales
Species: P. tomentosa

: Native to central and western China, but invasive in the US  E. Asia – China.  Woods, 1300 – 2000 metres in W. China. Woodland Garden; Canopy; Secondary;


It is a decidious Tree.  It grows to 10-25 m tall, with large heart-shaped to five-lobed leaves 15-40 cm across, arranged in opposite pairs on the stem. On young growth, the leaves may be in whorls of three and be much bigger than the leaves on more mature growth . The characteristic large size of the young growth is exploited by gardeners: by pollarding the tree and ensuring there is vigorous new growth every year, massive leaves are produced (up to 60cm across). These are popular in the modern style of gardening which uses large-foliaged and “architectural” plants.

The flowers are produced before the leaves in early spring, on panicles 10-30 cm long, with a tubular purple corolla 4-6 cm long resembling a foxglove flower. The fruit is a dry egg-shaped capsule 3-4 cm long, containing numerous tiny seeds. The seeds are winged and disperse by wind and water. Pollarded trees do not produce flowers, as these only form on mature wood.

Paulownia tomentosa can survive wildfire because the roots can regenerate new, very fast-growing stems. It is tolerant of pollution and it is not fussy about soil type. For this reason it functions ecologically as a pioneer plant. Its nitrogen-rich leaves provide good fodder and its roots prevent soil erosion. Eventually, Paulownia is succeeded by taller trees that shade it. It cannot thrive in the shade of other trees.

In China, an old custom is to plant an Empress Tree when a baby girl is born. The fast-growing tree matures when she does. When she is eligible for marriage the tree is cut down and carved into wooden articles for her dowry. Carving the wood of Paulownia is an art form in Japan and China. In legend, it is said that the Phoenix will only land on the Empress Tree and only when a good ruler is in power. Several Asian string instruments are made from P. tomentosa, including the Japanese koto and Korean gayageum zithers.

It is hardy to zone 5 and is frost tender. It is in flower in May, and the seeds ripen from September to October. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs)The plant is self-fertile.
The plant prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and requires well-drained soil. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It requires moist soil. It can tolerate atmospheric pollution.

Requires a deep moderately fertile moisture retentive but well-drained soil in a sunny sheltered position. Plants are tolerant of atmospheric pollution. A very ornamental and fast growing plant. The flower buds are formed in autumn and can be excited into premature growth during mild winter weather, this growth is then more susceptible to frost damage. The flower buds are hardy to about -15°c when dormant. Plants, and especially seedlings less than 2 years old, are frost tender when young. They do not flower reliably in maritime zones, this is probably due to insufficient warmth and dryness in the summer. Branches tend to be brittle . The flowers have a delicate sweet fragrance. Trees can be coppiced annually, they will then produce very vigorous growth with leaves up to 1 metre wide. Plants in this genus are notably resistant to honey fungus.

Seed – best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame. Sow stored seed in late winter in a greenhouse at 15 – 20°c. The seed requires light for germination. Fair to good germination. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, 5 – 8cm with a heel, July/August in a frame. Overwinter in a cold frame for its first year and plant out in late spring. Root cuttings 4cm long in December. Good percentage

Edible Uses
Edible Parts: Flowers; Leaves.

Leaves – cooked. An emergency food, used when all else fails. Flowers. Eaten with miso.

Medicinal  Actions & Uses
Astringent; Skin; Vermifuge; Warts.

A decoction of the leaves is used to wash foul ulcers and is also said to promote the growth of hair and prevent graying. The leaves are also poulticed onto bruises. The leaf juice is used in the treatment of warts. The flowers are used in the treatment of skin ailments. A tincture of the inner bark is used in the treatment of fevers and delirium. It is astringent and vermifuge.

Other Uses
Charcoal; Wood.

Wood – not attacked by insects. Used for making boxes, clogs, furniture, musical instruments etc. Good for posts and beams in construction[46, 61, 151, 178]. A source of charcoal.

The soft, lightweight seeds were commonly used as a packing material by Chinese porcelain exporters in the 19th century, before the development of polystyrene packaging. Packing cases would often leak or burst open in transit and scatter the seeds along rail tracks. This, together with seeds released by specimens deliberately planted for ornament, has allowed the species to become an invasive weed tree in areas where the climate is suitable for its growth, notably Japan and the eastern United States.

Scented Plants
Flowers: Fresh
The flowers have a delicate sweet fragrance.

Known Hazards:     The plant contains some potentially toxic compounds.

Disclaimer:The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider


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