Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Friday, May 10, 2013

Get The Chainsaw Out

You know what it is like when you discover a new plant and then suddenly start seeing it everywhere. Recently, I identified a tree that grows on our additional acreage and now I am seeing it all around popping out the tree canopy as it is now blooming.


This is Empress Tree, also called Princess Tree (Paulownia tomentosa). It is advertised as the fastest growing tree in the world.

The blooms are a showy pale violet. They are fuzzy and sticky to the touch. They remind me a bit of foxgloves blooms.


It is an aggressive ornamental tree introduced from East Asia in the 1840s. It will grow 30-60 ft. tall. According to the Southeast Exotic Pest Plant Council it often grows in disturbed areas that may be habitats for rare plants. It grows in acidic and infertile soils and is drought tolerant. This is an invasive tree in Georgia. By some it is a much treasured tree. It is highly prized in Asia for the quality of its timber and its ability to tolerate harsh environments.


The wood is easy to work with and is used to make furniture, musical instruments, wooden bowls and ornamental carvings. It has been harvested to extinction in Japan and because it is so fast growing it is popular in its native China for reforestation, roadside planting and as an ornamental tree. This tree is a good example of how a plant has its role in its native ecosystem but is invasive when taken outside of its native area.

This tree does not have a role in our garden and will continue to spread if we don't remove it. So, out comes the chain saw for initial removal. I read that resprouts are common after cutting. Its ability to sprout prolifically from adventitious buds on stems and roots allows it to survive fire and cutting. Ugh! Looks like we may be pulling sprouts for some time to come.

So many of the invasive species are here because they were introduced by us or accidentally in global trade. It is a good reminder to think twice about the plants you are buying. Be sure to know their history before you start a relationship with them in your garden.

27 comments:

  1. This stupid tree is everywhere! I've been pulling seedlings out of my garden for the last several years after my former neighbors let a couple grow in their yard. One neighbor even poured round UP on it and it laughed. Good luck! If you figure out a way to get rid of it, let me know!

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    1. Well, that is not very encouraging. I fear that it will be difficult to eradicate and you have confirmed that. I will let you know if I find a magic formula!

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  2. Good advice! I have heard of this tree, even thought about planting some of them, but in the end decided it wouldn't be a good thing to do. It is pretty, though.

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    1. Good to hear that you didn't plant it! I've never seen it for sale at the nursery but unfortunately, there are many on-line retailers. Definitely a tree to enjoy in its native land.

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  3. I was wondering what those purple flowers were when we were driving home from Virginia. Thanks Karin! I know that this tree is prized in the UK, but it is probably not so rampant over there either. I have not seen it growing here in PA though.

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    1. Probably not. Doesn't seem that the weather would be as favorable to them thriving. Since I've written this post I've found three more trees in adjacent properties.

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  4. Good luck in your efforts to control this invasive, may the force be with you!

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    1. Wait a minute...
      I had a garden where this tree was planted, and it never thrived... due to the amount of soil work that was constantly being done underneath...
      Turns out... if you're creating new soil beds, cutting through roots... and then removing the cut pieces... you will loose the tree... it eventually came out with a mattock and shovel... it had little life left.

      Rather than cut this tree with a chain saw, I suggest severing the anchor roots... then allowing the trees height to work against the tree... rock it back n forth, or tie a chain to it's mid-section or higher... and to the bumper of the truck and pull it out...
      Doesn't look like it would be much of a project from the pictures...

      Sorry for the double comment... the text was garbled in the first...

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    2. Thanks for sharing your experience. This tree is pretty tall albeit not that wide. Sounds like killing the roots is the way to go.

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  6. Invasive because they are pretty? Invasive plants spread more when they look good in gardens. I remember seeing them growing roadside and asked someone what they were. I was drawn to them because of the pretty blue flowers.

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    1. Indeed! If you look at the period plantings at old southern plantations most of them are exotics from Europe and Asia brought over for their beauty.

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  7. Good to know. I'm not sure they would grow so well here in the north--which it sounds like is a good thing. It's pretty though. Good luck with the removal!

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  8. A pest in Georgia and a pest in North Carolina - I see it everywhere there too; it is moving north. This time of year I wish I could drive around with my eyes closed so that I didn't have to see how many there are. Thank YOU for getting rid of the one that came your way.

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    1. Like you, I can't appreciate this tree knowing how invasive it is and the damage it does to the native habitat!

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  9. As soon as i saw those purple blooms I understood the title of your post. Get rid of it quick. Even here in our cold climate Empress tree will sprout babies all over the place. Beautiful but horrible plant.

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    1. Thanks for letting the readers know that it grows north too! I wasn't sure if it was hardy there or not.

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  10. I bought one of these this spring and after research I quickly brought it back. The property has a creek and I heard it will take over really, really quickly.

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    1. So glad to hear that you didn't plant it! I've done that before too...bought something because it is an attractive plant only to find out it can be invasive. Now, if I see a new plant at a nursery I research it first. Thank goodness for smart phones :)

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  11. Good for you...I will be out trying to control my invasives and mistakes...good luck and wise words for us all Karin!

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    1. It is hard work controlling invasives, especially when they get out of control! In the end it is very rewarding though!

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  12. Such good advice! Your Empress Tree is a good cautionary tale. I now make a point of checking plants out before I bring them home, or if I am at all suspicious, I plant them in my holding bed. There I wait and see how they do before I think of planting them into the main garden.

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    1. A holding bed...how clever! Kind of like a trial garden. Cool!

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  13. It is such a lovely tree, but the best thing to do is get the chainsaw out. It is always interesting to see how we handle all of these plant introduction mistakes-accidental or otherwise. :)

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  14. We have a lot of invasive species here too, some are bushes and many are vines. I remember one US consultant here who was responsible in introducing a vine in the '80s supposed to be with high protein content and good forage crop. These days it is a problem for farmers and orchard owners as it is very invasive and will climb younger trees and eventually overpower them, strangle and kill. Someone's waste is really another's treasure.

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"Don't wait for someone to bring you flowers. Plant your own garden and decorate your soul"

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