Paulownia tomentosa

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Foxglove tree
Paulownia tomentosa JPG2a.jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Lamiales
Family: Paulowniaceae
Genus: Paulownia
P. tomentosa
Binomial name
Paulownia tomentosa

Paulownia tomentosa (common names princesstree,[1] foxglove-tree,[2] or kiri[citation needed]) is a deciduous tree in the family Paulowniaceae, native to central and western China. It is an extremely fast-growing tree, and is a persistent exotic invasive in North America.[3]


Flowering tree

The generic name Paulownia honors Anna Pavlovna of Russia.[4] The specific epithet tomentosa is a Latin word meaning ‘covered in hairs’.[5]


Flowers and young leaves

This tree grows 10–25 m (33–82 ft) tall, with large heart-shaped to five-lobed leaves 15–40 cm (6–16 in) 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.[6] The leaves can be mistaken for those of the catalpa.

The very fragrant 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 form only on mature wood.

Paulownia tomentosa can survive wildfire because the roots can regenerate new, very fast-growing stems. It is tolerant of pollution and can tolerate many soil types. 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. It is able to grow from small cracks in pavements and walls.

The primary reason for the rapid growth of "Paulownia tomentosa" is because of an evolutionary adaptation that allows it to use C4 Carbon Fixation in the photosynthetic process.[7][citation needed] This is common among grasses, but uncommon among trees.


Paulownia tomentosa is cultivated as an ornamental tree in parks and gardens. It has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.[8][9]

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 23in/60 cm across). These are popular in the modern style of gardening which uses large-foliaged and "architectural" plants.

In Japan, the tree is planted at the birth of a girl.[10] 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. In legend, it is said that the phoenix will land only on this 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.

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. The magnitude of the numbers of seeds used for packaging, together with seeds deliberately planted for ornament, has allowed the species to be viewed as an invasive species in areas where the climate is suitable for its growth, notably Japan and the eastern United States.[11]


Some geranylflavonoids can be found in P. tomentosa.[12]

Verbascoside can also be produced in hairy roots cultures of P. tomentosa.[13]



  1. ^ "Paulownia tomentosa". Natural Resources Conservation Service PLANTS Database. USDA. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  2. ^ "BSBI List 2007". Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Archived from the original (xls) on 2015-01-25. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
  3. ^ Kuppinger, D. M. and M. Jenkins. 2010. Predicting the post-fire establishment and persistence of an invasive tree species across a complex landscape. Biological Invasions 12:3473-3484
  4. ^ Coombes, Allen J. (2012). The A to Z of plant names. USA: Timber Press. p. 312. ISBN 9781604691962.
  5. ^ Harrison, Lorraine (2012). RHS Latin for gardeners. United Kingdom: Mitchell Beazley. p. 224. ISBN 9781845337315.
  6. ^ image comparing large and small trees
  7. ^ Hall, T. (2008). Paulownia: an agroforestry gem. Trees for Life Journal, 3(3).
  8. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Paulownia tomentosa". Retrieved 25 May 2013.
  9. ^ "AGM Plants - Ornamental" (PDF). Royal Horticultural Society. July 2017. p. 72. Retrieved 21 April 2018.
  10. ^ Roman, Magali. "The Princess Tree: Stories of Paulownia". Rikumo Journal. Retrieved 12 August 2017.
  11. ^ Tom Remaley (2006-06-27). "Princess tree". Plant Conservation Alliance's Alien Plant Working Group Least Wanted.
  12. ^ C-geranyl compounds from Paulownia tomentosa fruits. Smejkal Karel, Grycova Lenka, Marek Radek, Lemiere Filip, Jankovska Dagmar, Forejtnikova Hana, Vanco Jan and Suchy Vaclav, Journal of natural products, 2007, vol. 70, no8, pp. 1244-1248
  13. ^ Establishment of transformed root cultures of Paulownia tomentosa for verbascoside production. H. Wysokiińska and M. Rózga, Journal of Plant Physiology, 1998, Volume 152, Issue 1, Pages 78–83, doi:10.1016/S0176-1617(98)80105-3

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