Paulownia tomentosa (empress tree, karri-tree, royal paulownia)

description: deciduous tree

place of origin: temperate East Asia

urban habitat: drought-tolerant, grows best in full sun in a variety of disturbed habitats including vacant lots, pavement and masonry cracks, in and around abandoned structures, fence lines, highway banks and medians, rock outcrops; currently abundant in the mid-Atlantic region but is expected to spread rapidly north as climate becomes warmer; appears to thrive and spread most sucessfully after disturbances such as fire, floods, landslides, construction, mining, logging and cultivation; tolerates high acidity levels in soil.

ecological function: heat reduction in urban areas; tolerant of roadway salt and compacted soil; soil improvement; erosion control on slopes; food and habitat for wildlife.

history: Paulowina tomentosa was introduced into North America in 1844, after being brought to Europe in the 1830’s. It is speculated to have spread throughout the eastern US when its seeds were discarded after having been used as packing materials for imported Chinese porcelain. It has been cultivated in every continent in the world except for Antarctica. Its light, fine-grained and insect resistant wood is used in Japan for making a variety of specialized items, such as boxes, clogs, furniture, musical instruments, and used as posts and beams for construction. Its burnt wood makes a good charcoal. Medicinally, a decoction of the leaves has been used to wash skin ulcers and to promote growth of hair and prevent graying. A poultice of the leaves is used on bruises and its juice for treatment of warts. Its fragrant flowers have been used to treat skin aliments and a tincture of the inner bark for treating fevers and delirium. Its cooked leaves can be consumed as an emergency food source.