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Paulownia - the fastest growing tree in the world

  • Paulownia - the fastest growing tree in the world
  • Paulownia - the fastest growing tree in the world
  • Paulownia - the fastest growing tree in the world
  • Paulownia - the fastest growing tree in the world
  • Paulownia - the fastest growing tree in the world

If you want a tree to make an impact in your garden, and do it fast, then look no further than Paulownia tomentosa. Where other greenery can all become a bit of a summer smudge, the Paulownia will very soon stand out with its huge, handsome lime green leaves up to 20cm wide that 'light up' in the morning and evening sun. The common name Empress tree is well deserved.

The specimen shown (photos yesterday evening) is just four years old. It's yet to flower, but when it does it'll have large panicles of attractive pale violet flowers which appear before the leaves in spring. These tend to grow toward the top of the tree, so choose a site if you can where they can be viewed - from a bedroom window perhaps.

In the UK, P. tomentosa will grow to 12m. But fear not, if it gets to big you can pollard it in late winter/early spring. You'll lose the flowers that season, but it will produce new shoots up to 2 metres long before the autumn and the leaves can become 2-3 times their usual size - up to 60cm! I'm looking forward to trying that.

P. tomentosa can be caught by frosts, but it's quick to regenerate. Ours also had it's bark almost completely ringed by a deer in its first year and I thought we'd lose it. But it shrugged that off too. I've heard the tree is less tolerant of deeper cold and wet in the North, and would be interested to hear how others have faired. With its soft downy leaves, I'm sure it prefers a more sheltered spot.

The fastest growing Tomentosa of all is T. elongata, but its tall, upright form is less suited to garden settings.

Paulownia tomentosa rightly deserves its RHS Award of Garden Merit.

Comments (19)

  1. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    l love Paulownia, and did you know, even large branches have a central "core" which is hollow, like a pipe. If you ever have to prune one, or neaten up a wind-damaged branch, or pollard yours regularly, you can see it quite clearly.

    One of my Clients had a beautiful, huge one which, alas, suddenly died one year. But all was not lost, it threw up a root sucker some 10' from the stump, and now that sucker is itself 30' high and flowering. I've always understood that in the UK they are "at their northern limit" so I'd also be interested to hear if any GPS members "oop north" have this tree.

  2. Grower

    Linda

    My paulownia tree is about 8 years old, has coped with the wet ground so far up here in York and hasn’t needed any winter protection. It’s 4 metres tall just now, though it is cut well back most years at the end of summer. It has only flowered once (2014) so it’s proving difficult to keep the size reasonable and still get the spring flowers, which are worth waiting for, special to see. I guess that cutting back at the correct time will be critical as the buds form before winter. Later in the summer I find a few older leaves tend to go a bit brown and begin to lose that fresh new look shown in Jeremy’s pics. The roots are strong too - as Rachel says they can sprout up and grow new plants randomly. For example, a large root had to be cut back when it dislodged paving and then sprouted a few new shoots which needed dealing with. A lovely tree, particularly if you’ve got room to let it have the space it needs to flower though I know some people grow them only for their spectacular large leaves or as a shrub cutting down each year. I’ll give mine a feed and see if I can get some buds this year, see 2014 pic and the tree this year.
    Linda

    • Paulownia - the fastest growing tree in the world
    • Paulownia - the fastest growing tree in the world
  3. Grower

    Jeremy Wright

    Hi Linda - your tree looks very like mine! And I also have to remove some of the lower leaves that go brown later in the summer. But it's a pretty easy quick tidy up. When do you think is the optimum time to cut it back to get the buds and flowers for the following year? September?

  4. Grower

    Linda

    From my experience, I suspect any autumn pruning will hinder flowering on those branches Jeremy so am going to avoid pruning some branches until after spring next year, when the tree will normally have flowered. This will give the pruned branches all summer to set buds for the following year – I hope! Aren’t we gardeners patient – I’m already thinking of 2018!

  5. Grower

    Jeremy Wright

    Good idea ... and thank you! It'll hopefully save my trial and error resulting in not having flowers till 2020 ;-)

  6. Grower

    Rob Johnson, Green & Furry pet and garden care

    This is the outline of my paulownia kawakami.not a good photo but gives an idea of its impact. I have also a fargesii to go in, I grew them from seed easy

    • Paulownia - the fastest growing tree in the world
  7. Grower

    Linda

    Well done with your seeds Rob and welcome to GPS - I was curious to see where you were located to do so well with the paulownia and note that you are a new member to the site. I love your dramatic pic of the paulownia! A very different impression without all the luscious green leaves on show, but it shows a great effect on the landscape nontheless,

  8. Grower

    Rob Johnson, Green & Furry pet and garden care

    This is my jungle giant as referred to in my introduction you can see why Imcall it that. It does get bigger and bigger, but in an out of the way fashion. When it was 'small', it's leaves were enormous, almost gunnera size, unbelievable, now they are a little bigger then a catalpa leaf. I think the seed came from the RHS .
    If you notice next to it, to the left, the conical shrub is hoheria sexostylis just about to reach full flower. That is 8 ft tall or thereabouts, one of many NZ shrub I have, below it is the largest mountain totara I have ever seen, at least 10 ft in any direction. It is. About 4ft high maximum, but enormous across. Like things big yes, but I also love alpines at there most delicate and intricate.
    I live sort of over looking Swansea, 16miles South East and 8 miles or so due north of Llanelli, so facing up against the Atlantic and being high up, the weather can be interesting, but very very mild. With frost never penetrating. It is surprising what does reappear year after year- echium pininana seedlings on the sight of a long dead plant for example, there is never enough of a freeze to kill them, thuogh often the plants give up with the wet.
    Hope I get many more years of experimental growing, I'm just thankful that I have enough space to accommodate it all, just enough.

  9. Grower

    Linda

    You have a lovely spot for experimenting with your unusual plants Rob, lucky you. I look forward to hearing more as you share your news in the future.

  10. Grower

    Rob Johnson, Green & Furry pet and garden care

    Well hopefully it will flower soon, that would look dramatic, but no sign yet.
    What I do need to catch in. A photo is the calandrinia discolor plants in flower up in the glasshouses.They only open up when it is sunny and they are beauties. These are one of the species that bring the Atacama desert to life once, or so in a lifetime, as could be seen last November, truly in the top 5 or so of natures spectacles, otherwise, this is the driest, most desolate place on earth.

  11. Grower

    Linda

    Here are a couple of flowers from the paulownia this year - will try to do better for next year!

    • Paulownia - the fastest growing tree in the world
  12. Grower

    Rob Johnson, Green & Furry pet and garden care

    Mine looks nice with the blue Sky as a backdrop

    • Paulownia - the fastest growing tree in the world
    • Paulownia - the fastest growing tree in the world
    • Paulownia - the fastest growing tree in the world
  13. Grower
  14. Grower

    Linda

    How lovely Rob, thanks for pics, look forward to mine like this next year!

  15. Grower

    Linda

    PS did you have any luck with your calandrinia discolor plants Rob?

  16. Grower

    Rob Johnson, Green & Furry pet and garden care

    Yes they love my greenhouses, some rotted in the winter, which I would expect with a plant from the driest place on earth, others made it. On top of savied seed, they are popping up everywhere now, so very pleased. I've also, seed of calandrinia grandiflora, a similar specie from further down up in the Andes, as to be espaected, this one is completly hardy, so we'll see what happens.
    I'll be around during the day one time to take photos of the flowers, they are finished by late afternoon.

  17. Grower

    Linda

    Look forward to seeing a pic Rob.

  18. Grower

    Donna Mc Kiernan

    Hi im new here and have just purchesed some paulownia tomentose seeds. Its july in ireland and maybe far too late to try to plant these?? Any help appreciated as im new to these trees. I was actually looking for lupin tree seeds when i stumbled across these and decided to purchase.

  19. Grower

    Rob Johnson, Green & Furry pet and garden care

    Hi Donna,
    The best thing to do is to sow some now while fresh, sow some in Autumn , but the best results I have is from a spring sowing. If you just surface sow, then a thin sprinkling of sharp sand, they need to be in a bit of light. They should be loads of seed to play around with, they are tiny and each one capable of making a tree quite quickly, I'm sure you will end up with plants no matter when you sow.
    Plant world of Devon usually has a good selection of tree lupin seeds, they do trade in Euros depending where you are,, good luck.


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