Paulownia Wood Guide: How To Grow Paulownia Empress Tree (Hardwood)

Man wonders how to grow paulownia wood (paulownia empress tree) and if there is a fast growing hardwood trees guide that includes types of empress tree varieties.

Any Paulownia wood guide will tell you that the Paulownia tree produces some of the best hardwood in the world.

As a native of East Asia, the fossil record shows that some species of Paulownia existed in North America millennia ago, however, all the current paulownia in North America are imported, and is in fact an invasive species.

However, the tree is beloved by gardeners and horticulturists for its enormous tropical leaves and by woodworkers for its top-quality hardwood. The tree can be found throughout the United States, especially in the interior portions of the south like Tennessee and Kentucky.

It can grow in a variety of conditions and will be a prominent feature of the American ecosystem for centuries to come. The Paulowniaceae is a large genus of fast-growing hardwood trees.

This guide explains how to grow Paulownia Empress Tree and why the Paulownia wood is so coveted.

Growing Paulownia Empress Tree

Continue reading to learn more about how to grow the Paulownia empress tree.

Site Selection

Fortunately or not, a paulownia wood guide will tell you that a large proportion of the ecosystem in the USA has conditions that are favorable to the paulownia. The central south portion is probably the best, including Kentucky and Tennessee.

In the northern regions of the USA, the paulownia can definitely be grown, but large-scale growth will be hampered by soil conditions and cold.6 Sloped land is generally considered preferred due to its good drainage.

The ideal is a sunny slope facing the southeast. Avoid soils with high clay contents and prefer loamy soils with a pH of around 6.

These specific conditions will be important for commercial growth. However, to grow one of these trees in your backyard or garden, it is totally fine to have sub-optimal conditions.

From Seedling

For commercial growth, paulownia trees are often grown from root cuttings. They are 4-5 inch pieces of roots that should be around or greater than an inch in diameter.

These should be grown in nursery beds for around 1-2 years and then transferred to plantations.

From Seed

Most home-growers will plant their paulownia from seed. These can simply be bought at a garden store or online, or of course, collected from local trees.

The collection has the added benefit of confidence that the species you have selected is capable of surviving in your environment. The seeds are produced usually by 8-10-year-old or older trees.

They can produce as many as 20 million in a year. The best time to collect the seeds would be in early September.

Take pods off of a healthy-looking tree during their ripening phase, while they are brown, but before they open and release the seeds. Then let them air dry.

The preferred way to access the seeds is to put the pod in a cotton bag and lightly crush it. Then the seeds can be easily separated from the pod remnants.

Photo of a Paulownia Tree growing on a rocky wall.

(Image by: Wpbgrenoble13)

The seeds should then be stored between 38 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit either in a dry-sealed container or within moist layers of sand and peat. In this way, the seeds can be stored for around 4 years before the germination rate falls dramatically.

Ideally, though, the seeds will be planted before the second year after harvest.3

Planting Chinese Empress Tree (Paulownia Wood Guide)

Read on to learn more about Paulownia wood guide.


You can plant either in a nursery bed or directly in the ground. Nursery beds are preferred in commercial settings.

They afford more drainage, which can prevent waterlogging. This is not necessary for home growing.

To plant in a bed, the seeds can be simply scattered on a moist bed at a density of about 1 teaspoon per yard. After this, rootstocks or cuttings are usually used for ground planting.3

Ground Seedling

An easier way is to buy container seedlings. These can be nurtured for a while or immediately transplanted outdoors.

The best place to get one is always a local nursery. 10-14-inch tall seedlings should be ready for transplant, but they must first be hardened.

This can be done either while planting them while they are dormant during the winter or by setting the container in a shaded area for around 3-5 days before planting. Planting in early spring is ideal.

Paulownia Wood Guide: Ground Seed

Bare soil, plenty of moisture, and direct sunlight are the best conditions to grow from seed. A seed may require 150 hours of sunlight before it is ready to germinate, and in a natural setting that can mean around two weeks.

The seeds are small and light. So they should be mixed into surface soil and covered with a light mulch that will still let sunlight through.

Paulownia seedlings can take 2-5 years until they become truly established in the ground and can tolerate competing ground cover plants around them.3,7

Are Paulownia Trees Easy To Grow?

The tree is considered relatively easy to grow however the seeds are so small and light that they can be difficult to manage. For backyard purposes, it is recommended to buy the tree as a cutting or seedling.

The paulownia can grow in a remarkably diverse set of conditions and has been known as a pioneer or invasive species for its success across the globe.

Empress Tree (Paulownia Wood)

(Paulownia tomentosa)

Photo of the Paulownia Empress Tree in an oval frame on green background.
  • Family: Paulowniaceae
  • Genus: Paulownia
  • Leaf: Opposite, simple, heart-shaped and quite large, 5 to 12 inches long, typically quite velvety, green above and paler below; leaves on younger trees will often show course serrations or even lobes.
  • Bark: Relatively thin and colored a grayish-brown.
  • Native Habitat: central and western China
  • Height: 15 to 50 feet
  • Type: Deciduous

Image Credit: Daka14

Paulownia Empress Tree

The paulownia genus was originally named Pavlovnia after Anna Pavlovna, the queen consort of The Netherlands in the 19th century and the daughter of the Tzar of Russia. This is also how the tree also gets the common name “princess tree” or “empress tree.”

It is alternatively called the foxglove tree. Perhaps the most common species is the paulownia tomentosa.

Tomentosa is a Latin epithet that means hair-covered. Because the paulownia tomentosa is so widespread it is often confused as the entire genus of paulownia, and this is one of the reasons the entire genus is considered invasive.

In North America, the only real invasive problem is the tomentosa.1

What Is a Princess Tree?

Princess tree is a common name for the paulownia, a tree native to East Asia that was nicknamed after Anna Pavlovna, the queen consort of The Netherlands. It can also be called the

Paulownia empress tree, royal empress tree, Chinese empress tree, or empress splendor tree.

It is commonly used to refer to a member of the genus paulownia as a whole although sometimes it is used to designate the species paulownia tomentosa in particular. For precision, the scientific names should be used whenever necessary.

Hardwood Trees

The Paulownia tree is extremely celebrated as a hardwood tree. As hardwood trees are usually broad-leafed and deciduous, the paulownia fits the bill.

They have a more complex structure than softwoods and are often slower growers. The main difference between hard and softwood is the pores or vessels in the wood.

However, the classifications of hardwood and softwood trees are a misnomer, because not all hardwood tees actually yield harder wood than softwoods. Both groups have a big range of density in their wood.

The terms hardwood and softwood just refer to whether the plant type is an angiosperm or gymnosperm, in other words, whether or not the unfertilized seed is enclosed or exposed.1

Best Trees for Wood

Most people know the standard North American hardwood trees including ash, birch, elm, maple, beech, oak, and walnut.

Since the paulownia tree is most common in East Asia, it is less well known but deserves its place as an excellent hardwood tree, like meranti wood, oak, and others with which you may be familiar.

Huge Leaf Tomentosa

Tomentosa leaves can be cultivated into extremely large garden features. Usually, they are between 6-15 inches and are heart-shaped and deciduous.

However, if the trunk is coppiced, the tree will produce thick fuzzy branches as its new stem. These stems will produce monstrous leaves which can be above two feet in diameter.

Photo of a young royal empress tree.

(Image by: Andreas Rockstein10)

The leaves are extremely impressive and look like they belong in a tropical Jurassic forest. This is commonly done by growers just for amusement or aesthetic reasons.2

These leaves contribute to the impressive carbon sequestration abilities of the tomentosa. These trees are known for readily absorbing pollutants from the air and have been suggested as ideal species for planting and sequestration projects.

The issue is that in many non-native environments, they are also considered invasive and can out-compete local species and negatively affect the ecosystem as a whole. Thus the impressive abilities of the tomentosa to cleanse the atmosphere must be weighted against its ability to disrupt local ecosystems.

Fast Growing Hardwood Trees

One of the great advantages of the paulownia tree as a wood-bearing tree is the speed of its growth. Paulownia trees can grow to a significant size in only a matter of years and can yield strong wood in around or even under 20 years.5

However, for the best results, the trees are usually coppiced and this will mean more time is required to reach maximum size and wood quality.1

Cultivating Paulownia Tree

As any paulownia wood guide will say, the paulownia must be given attention if it is being cultivated to produce high-quality hardwood. One thing is to reduce competition.

A view from the bottom part of the paulownia empress tree showing its light pink blossoms.

(Image by: Andreas Rockstein11)

In the early growing stages, the soil around the trunk should be bare. If necessary, remove competing plants manually.

Trees that grow without coppicing or pruning usually do not develop a strong enough or long enough bole to produce high-grade timber. So after 1-3 years in the ground, once the root system is developed, trees intended for lumber are usually cut just above the ground.

Resprouting promotes the growth of tall trunks. How many board feet in a tree depends on the size and shape of the specific tree.

Paulownia trees need decades to produce the optimal amount of high-grade lumber. To grow a paulownia in your yard or garden, make sure that it is the type of tree you want and that it is suitable for your site.

Follow the planting directions and watch the tree add character to your property. You should make a choice about whether to coppice the tree for larger leaves and a different look.

Paulownia trees are extremely low-maintenance yard plants.

Is Paulownia Wood Valuable?

Paulownia wood is extremely prized for its lightness, strength, and durability. It is commonly used in construction, for furniture, musical instruments, and many other applications.

When commercially cultivated paulownia lumber can be some of the best in the world.

Royal Empress Tree Uses (Paulownia Wood Guide)

This tree is traditionally grown as an ornamental tree. Its elegant appearance makes it a favored choice for yards, gardens, and parks.

The Royal Horticultural Society gave the Paulownia its Award of Garden Merit. The tree is quite tolerant and flexible, which means that in nature it has the role of a pioneer plant.

It produces excellent fodder with its leaves which are abundant in nitrogen and its strong roots. In some ecological systems, the Paulownia will create favorable conditions for taller tree species which will eventually outgrow and overshadow the Paulownia, meaning it can no longer thrive.1

Since the paulownia seeds are so soft and lightweight, they were commonly used by porcelain exporters in nineteenth-century China for packing their goods to be shipped. When in transit, the cases would sometimes burst and leave seeds all along the tracks.

This created an explosion of trees spread across the world, and the tree is now considered invasive in the USA and Japan.8 In Japan, it is tradition to plant Paulownia seeds upon the birth of a daughter.

The idea is that by the time the daughter is at the peak of her adulthood and suitability for marriage, the tree will also be mature. The tree will then be cut down and crafted into a dresser to serve as a wedding gift.1

The tomentosa has also been used in various projects designed to capture and store carbon from the atmosphere. Its exceptionally large leaves are excellent absorbers of pollution, and of course, the tree also yields timber and aesthetic value.

In some places it has been claimed that the tomentosa conducts C4 carbon fixation, which is a very rare process, however, this information is inaccurate.1 A paulownia wood guide will tell you the tree is used for a variety of applications.

Including housing, furniture, components for aircraft and yachts, musical instruments, beehives, barrels, coffins, and more. This diverse set of uses and human applications has made the paulownia, especially the paulownia tomentosa, a beloved and widespread feature of the North American ecosystem.

Empress Splendor Tree Invasive Species

Due to the fact that the paulownia tree is an extremely successful tree across the globe in many non-native areas, it is often considered an invasive genus. However, really only the paulownia tomentosa, a specific species, should be considered invasive.9

Other species under the Paulownia genus can be beneficial even to non-native landscapes. Since the tomentosa is fast-growing in various terrains, and since the seeds are so numerous, small, and light, it is an excellent pioneer species.4

The tomentosa was initially cultivated in North America as an ornamental species and is still cultivated commercially for wood. However, spreading should be controlled in at-risk areas by pulling seedlings by hand including the entire root systems.

This is the best method of spread prevention. However, it may be wise to identify the exact species of paulownia before pulling a seedling, as technically only the tomentosa is considered invasive in most areas and other non-invasive species of the genus can easily be mistaken for it.

Paulownia Lumber

Paulownia heartwood is an excellent combination of lightweight and extremely durable. It is usually a pale brown color.

Sometimes it can have a red or purple hue. The grain tends to be straight with a coarse or less-even texture.

Close up photo of a bark of the paulownia tree which can be a good source of paulownia lumber.

(Image by: Bri Weldon12)

It has pores that make the wood look porous, very desirable for some aesthetic applications. The lumber has excellent resistance to decay but can be susceptible to insects.

Paulownia is prized because it is so easy to work with. The tree’s wood usually has no knots.

Often the wood has a high silica content, so the wood can have a significant dulling effect on the tools used to cut it. It is an extremely good insulator and has a combustion resistance almost twice that of many similar species.

If you are wondering how different woods stack up against each other in terms of wood hardness or what is the hardest wood in the world, consult a wood hardness scale. In short, paulownia wood is some of the most useful and diversely applied lumber in the world.

The paulownia is a species that has been iconic in East Asia for centuries.

“Paulownia wood” is a unique material, and now it has spread across the world; although the species tomentosa is considered invasive in many of its non-native environments due to its high success, the genus is still cultivated by many.

Read More About Paulownia Wood


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2Hodgson, L. (2018, April 06). How to Grow a Monster Leaf Paulownia. LAIDBACKGARDENER. Retrieved November 28, 2023, from <>

3Bio Tree & Deoway Studio. (2023). Requirements for growing Paulownia. PAULOWNIATREES. Retrieved November 29, 2023, from <>

4EPPO. (2023). EPPO Alert List – Paulownia tomentosa (Paulowniaceae). EPPO. Retrieved November 29, 2023, from <>

5United States Department of Agriculture. (2023). Paulownia tomentosa (Thunb.) Siebold & Zucc. ex Steud. USDA. Retrieved November 29, 2023, from <>

6Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board. (2023). Empress tree. NWCB | WA. Retrieved November 29, 2023, from <>

7Breen, P. (2023). Paulownia tomentosa. OREGONSTATE. Retrieved November 29, 2023, from <>

8Alabama Forestry Commission. (2023). Princess Tree. ALABAMA. Retrieved November 29, 2023, from <>

9Smith, C. (2008). Paulownia tomentosa (Princess Tree). NCFORESTSERVICE. Retrieved November 29, 2023, from <>

10Paulownia tomentosa Photo by Andreas Rockstein. (2016, October 24) / CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED | Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 GenericCropped. Flickr. Retrieved November 28, 2023, from <>

11Paulownia tomentosa Photo by Andreas Rockstein. (2018, April 29) / CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED | Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 GenericCropped. Flickr. Retrieved November 28, 2023, from <>

12Paulownia tomentosa Photo by Bri Weldon. (2010, November 12) / CC BY 2.0 DEED| Attribution 2.0 GenericCropped. Flickr. Retrieved November 28, 2023, from <>

13Paulownia tomentosa growing in a wall Photo by Wpbgrenoble. (2017, April 30) / CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED | Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International. Cropped. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved December 7, 2023, from <>

14Purple Flower in Close Up Photography Photo by Daka. (2022, April 29) / Pexels License. Croppped and added text, shape, and background elements. Pexels. Retrieved November 27, 2023, from <>