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Paulownia tomentosa (photo courtesy of Susan A. Roth)
Paulownia tomentosa (photo courtesy of Susan A. Roth)

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Zone
Zones 4-9, 11-24
Full Sun
Full
Regular Water
Moderate

Paulownia tomentosa

Empress Tree

Deciduous, Trees, Flowers

Native to China. Large leaves and exotic-looking flowers give this tree a tropical effect. It grows quickly to 40–50 ft., with a nearly equal spread. Heavy trunk; brittle, nearly horizontal branches. Light green, roughly heart-shaped leaves are up to 1 ft. long. Brown flower buds the size of small olives form in autumn and persist over winter, then open in early spring, before leafout. Fragrant, 2-in., trumpet-shaped flowers are lilac-blue, marked on the inside with darker spotting and yellow stripes; they appear in erect clusters up to 1 ft. high. Flowers are followed by seed capsules shaped like tops; these are persistent, remaining on the tree along with next season’s flower buds. This tree does not bloom well where winters are very cold (buds freeze) or very mild (buds may drop off).

Grows best in deep, moist, well-drained soil. Tolerates air pollution. Protect from strong winds. Plant where falling flowers and leaves are not a problem. Not a tree to garden under due to dense shade and surface roots. If cut back yearly or every other year from an early age, it will produce a mass of giant-size leaves to 2 ft. long but at the expense of flower production.

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