I had never heard of that tree but a vendor nearby told me that a friend of his had planted a bunch for his retirement "nest egg". He said that the logs brought big bucks, because they were highly valued in the Orient for making sandals and furniture. He also said that the wood was fire resistant and it is the only tree in Maryland with a purple, "up-right" flower in the spring. Log buyers can recognize it from the air when it is in bloom and subsequently approach landowners trying to buy it.
Upon researching the Royal Paulownia tree (Paulownia Tomentosa), my vendor friend was indeed correct although I found no info about it being fire resistant. It was introduced as an ornamental from Asia in 1844 and has been naturalized in the eastern U.S. In China, it is called the T'ung tree where its qualities have been known for more than 2000 years. It is still a custom to plant a T'ung when a daughter is born and to harvest it to make a bridal chest from the wood when she is of age to marry.
Its English name was given in honor of Anne Paulownia (1795-1865) of Russia who was princess of the Netherlands. It is also known as the empress tree, princess tree, and in Japan as "kiri". It can grow throughout the U.S. -- from Montreal to Florida and west to Kansas and Texas. It also is found in California and the Pacific Northwest. Its bark is gray and tight, and its leaves are broadly ovate, 6" - 16" long, 4" - 8" wide, and pointed at the tip. The perfect bell-shaped flowers appear before leaves emerge and are in upright clusters 6" - 12" long. The fruit does not seem edible to any creature and is a 1.5" long woody, egg-shaped capsule. It is shade and competition intolerant. It grows quickly and trees might be 30' - 70' tall and from 3' - 5' in diameter depending on how good a site is.
© 2001 by David Mather. All rights reserved. No parts of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the written permission of the author.