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Royal Paulownia

July 15, 2017

Question

Attached are pictures of two different plants:  one a "mystery" tree we haven't identified and the other of a weed that is taking over our centipede lawn.  Can you help identify these species and how can we eradicate the weed from our lawn.  Our neighbor has the same problem we were told to use "weed and feed" and it would get rid of it.  It didn't. 

Picture of royal paulownia 

Answer

The tree in question is one I get asked about frequently because it just appears in the garden.  It is commonly called an empress tree or royal paulownia – Paulownia tomentosa.  As you can see in the photo it produces woody seed capsules that will pop open in the fall, scattering the seeds.  Many of the seeds germinate and when young, the tree can grow quite rapidly and have huge leaves.  As it ages, the leaves get normal size.  Then it will begin to produce beautiful clusters of purple blooms in the spring, followed by the woody capsules. It grows fast, has weak wood and thus falls apart with age.  I classify it as a trash tree because of the afore-mentioned things plus the fact that it can be somewhat invasive. Your weed is lespedeza.  This weed can be difficult to control, particularly in a centipede lawn since centipede is more sensitive to weed killers than is Bermuda or zoysia.  When you have lespedeza in the lawn it often indicates you have insufficient nitrogen fertilizer.  Two applications of a product such as Ortho Weed B Gon at the rate for southern grasses is the best you can do. Make them 30 days apart starting now, but watch the temperatures.  It would have been better to do when it was a bit cooler.


 

(May 2012)

QuestionWe live in NW Arkansas and have what we think is an Elephant Ear tree, the big leaves look like the elephant ear plant. We like the tree but it is in a bad location, it is at the corner of the garage, during the growing season it extends over the side walk and grows higher than the roof line we continually have to keep it cut back. I would like to relocate it but not sure when the right time is and most importantly how big the root system is, the trunk is about 5” in dia. I am pretty sure some of the roots are under the side walk and drive way and may be under the garage foundation. Any ideas?

AnswerThere is no such thing as an elephant ear tree. I think you probably have a royal paulownia tree, or empress tree-- Paulownia tomentosa. It grows huge leaves when it is in a juvenile state. As the tree ages the leaves get much smaller and it blooms with purple flowers. The resulting fruit are woody capsules which pop open and scatter seeds everywhere, which can germinate and come up in flower beds, etc. It is not a hugely desirable tree, but many folks like them. You can move it in the fall as it is going dormant. Take as much of the root system as you can easily move in a root ball.


(August 2010)

QuestionThis came up in our flower garden three years ago we cut it down first year. We left it alone last year, and now this year it has multiplied to three stalks. It's about six feet tall and the leaves are about 14 inches wide. So far it hasn't produced any flowers.

AnswerWe get samples of this every year. I often refer to it as the Jack-in-the-beanstalk tree, because of its rampant young growth. The tree is Royal Paulownia or Empress Tree—Paulownia tomentosa. This year many very young trees bloomed with what looked like purple candelabras—I think last year’s copious rainfall had something to do with that. Normally they don’t start blooming until they are around 5 to 7 years old. The tree does produce pretty purple flowers but then they form woody seed capsules which disperse their seed and you end up with weedy seedlings coming up everywhere. Because they are fast growing they also are fairly soft wooded and can start falling apart with age. All in all, not a great yard tree.


(August 2010)

QuestionThis came up in our flower garden three years ago we cut it down first year. We left it alone last year, and now this year it has multiplied to three stalks. It's about six feet tall and the leaves are about 14 inches wide. So far it hasn't produced any flowers.

AnswerWe get samples of this every year. I often refer to it as the Jack-in-the-beanstalk tree, because of its rampant young growth. The tree is Royal Paulownia or Empress Tree—Paulownia tomentosa. This year many very young trees bloomed with what looked like purple candelabras—I think last year’s copious rainfall had something to do with that. Normally they don’t start blooming until they are around 5 to 7 years old. The tree does produce pretty purple flowers but then they form woody seed capsules which disperse their seed and you end up with weedy seedlings coming up everywhere. Because they are fast growing they also are fairly soft wooded and can start falling apart with age. All in all, not a great yard tree.


(June 2010)

QuestionI ordered three Royal Paulownia trees out of a catalogue about three years ago and planted them. We planted those because we needed fast growing trees. I planted one in front of the house, one on the side of the house and one right next to the house. They are growing but the one right next to the house is growing the fastest! It’s about 8 feet tall, and it flowered for the first time this year with beautiful purple blooms. This tree is really close to the house. How large is it going to grow and do we need to cut it down if it is too close? Any pointers on care of these trees?

AnswerRoyal Paulownia or Empress trees are Paulownia tomentosa. They are weak-wooded fast growing trees that can produce enormous leaves when they are young, but then have a more normal sized leaf as the tree matures. Even young trees bloomed prolifically this spring, with large purple flower clusters that looked like candelabras. While they are showy in bloom, they tend to freely reseed themselves and start falling apart with age. For that reason they aren’t the best shade tree. They will also grow quite large – 30-40 foot minimum in height. As with any shade tree, they should not be planted any closer to the foundation than fifteen to twenty feet. If it is closer than that, consider transplanting it this fall to an area where it has room to grow, or plant another more long lived species.


(August 2007)

QuestionYou may be interested to see this picture of our giant weed tree that volunteered in our flower bed thanks to a passing bird. The County Agent here says it is a Paulownia Tree. Last year, it grew to 12 feet, and then got killed back by that late hard freeze we had last March or April after it already was leafing out. It was dead down to about a foot off the ground, and then started sprouting from the stump. I picked off all the sprouts except the most vertical one and now it is probably 15 feet and still going. The leaves are as much as 3 feet across. I find that as long as I keep the suckers picked out of the haunches, it keeps getting taller. How large can it grow?

AnswerThe Royal paulownia tree-- Paulownia tomentosa, is definitely the Jack-in-the-beanstalk tree. It has enormous leaves when young and grows quickly. Once it ages, the leaf size is cut more than in half. It will bloom eventually with large clusters of purple flowers. Each flower forms a woody seed capsule. The seeds are released in the fall and can germinate in the most amazing places--roof tops, gutters, flower beds. Due to its fast rate of growth it is often considered a trash tree and not particularly long-lived. It can grow 30- 40 feet tall and wide, so plant it where it has room to grow, if you decide to keep it.


(August 2006)

QuestionThis plant came up out of nowhere in a pea gravel bed at our house in Heber Springs. This picture is about a month old and it is now over 20' tall. What in the world is it? There are 2 of them. Do I want to encourage it or not?

AnswerThe plant in question is a Royal Paulownia tree--Paulownia tomentosa. It is very fast growing tree which gets quite large at maturity. As it ages, it will bloom with purple flowers. Each flower can set a woody seed capsule and when they pop open, the seeds are dispersed and the seedlings can pop up everywhere. They are a Jack in the Beanstalk plant when they are juvenile, growing in leaps and bounds, capable of producing huge leaves. As they mature, the growth rate slows down and the leaf size gets a bit smaller. They can be messy trees because of the seed capsules and the volunteers.


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