Eastern Forest Threat Center - Princesstree

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Princesstree leaves and fruit cluster

Princesstree leaves and fruit cluster

James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org

Paulownia tomentosa

Princesstree, native to China, was introduced into the U.S. in the early 1800s. It has been widely planted as an ornamental.

Keywords: Scrophulariaceae, deciduous, tree, heart-shaped leaves, pecan-shaped seed capsules; Common names: empress tree, paulownia, royal paulownia

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Threat Description

Princesstree is a small to medium sized deciduous tree in the figwort family that can grow to a height 60 ft. The bark is rough, gray-brown, and interlaced with shiny, smooth areas. Stems are olive-brown to dark brown, hairy, and markedly flattened at the nodes. Leaves, arranged in pairs along the stem, are large, broadly oval to heart-shaped, or sometimes shallowly three-lobed, and noticeably hairy on the lower leaf surfaces. Conspicuous upright clusters of showy, pale violet, fragrant flowers open in the spring. The fruit is a dry brown capsule with four compartments that may contain several thousand tiny winged seeds, which are dispersed by wind and water. Princesstree also has the ability to sprout prolifically from adventitious buds on stems and roots, allowing it to survive fire, cutting, and even bulldozing in construction areas. It is an aggressive, rapidly growing tree that tolerates infertile and acid soils and drought conditions. It easily adapts to disturbed habitats, including previously burned areas and forests defoliated by pests and landslides, and can colonize rocky cliffs and scoured riparian zones where it may compete with rare plants.