Posts Tagged ‘Paulownia’

Big-leafed mystery

Last June, I notice three small woody plants in the front yard of an unassuming house in my town.  They had each been carefully planted and mulched, and each had enormous leaves — about 12″ across, which for a three-foot high plant really is enormous.  I was fascinated, and through the summer watched them take off and grow to about twelve feet in height.

Paulownia detail

Couldn't figure out what it was: Catalpa? Castor bean plant? Some kind of Rodgersia? Big leaves, even when small -- but then it grew to about 12' in height in one season, and those speculations dissolved.

Paulownia vert

This mystery tree, paired with two others nearby, baffled me for months.

Paulownia horiz

One day in October I walked past with my camera, trying yet again to figure out what these 14-inch leaves on fast-growing stems could be. I was ready to steal a leaf and start keying it out.

And then that night, just before I fell sleep, the words ‘Paulownia tomentosa*’ floated across my mind’s eye.  Next morning I pulled out Dirr and — voila! — the mystery was solved.  I’d been watching three juveniles of the Paulownia genus (also known as Empress Tree, Dragon Tree, or Princess Tree) take hold and begin their march toward world domination in the suburbs south of Boston.  From what I’ve seen of these plants, they are like those guests at a party who arrive at full volume, make a big scene, and leave early (though these have kept their leaves into November now).

I’d first met Paulownias in Somerville, MA, where a picket-fenced yard on my bike route home from work was home to several large trees.  One day I was riding past, and noticed lots of large mauve flowers strewn on the road and sidewalk.  I looked up, and saw still more flowers hanging from the overarching branches.  The trees in flower were spectacular, though the yard itself looked a bit down at the heels, with dry bare dirt where lawn should have been.  Later, I saw some in bloom next to Route 1 in Westwood; they had clearly volunteered in some roadside fill, and were putting on their spring show.

This summer’s mystery planting was the first of these three sightings that I could tell had been intentionally planted.  I aim to keep an eye on them through the winter to see how their buds fare in this zone, and then watch out come spring as the show begins again.

*Not sure of the species, of which there are many.

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