Paulownia tomentosa

Paulownia tomentosa (Thunb.) Steud. (syn.: P. imperialis Siebold et Zucc.) (China) – A rare but much increasing escape from cultivation. First documented from Brussel in 1999 (Verhaeghe 1999) and soon afterwards also seen in Roeselare (Verloove 2002). Subsequently recorded in numerous, rather widely scattered localities but obviously less frequent in Wallonia. By now potentially escaping where-ever planted, especially in climatologically favourable areas, mostly in urban environments. It then mostly occurs on rough ground (including demolition sites), foot of walls, pavement, disused railway yards, abandoned industrial areas, neglected parks, etc. Paulownia tomentosa is a very fast growing tree with very large leaves, especially in the juvenile phase. As a result, in most cases it is readily removed by municipal maintenance services. A genuine naturalization probably has not been demonstrated so far from Belgium. However, in undisturbed places Paulownia tomentosa invariably grows tall, flowers and fruits and will inevitably naturalize in a near future.

Paulownia tomentosa is recently escaping in many parts of the world. Especially in milder regions it is increasingly considered as an invasive environmental weed. In Europe it is mostly confined to man-made and other disturbed habitats (Essl 2007) but in North America it invades woodland as well (Freeman, in prep.).

There is some controversy as to the origin of Paulownia tomentosa. Smiley (1961) demonstrated the presence of Paulownia as a fossil record in North America.


Selected literature:

Adolphi K. (1995) Neophytische Kultur- und Anbaupflanzen als Kulturflüchtlinge des Rheinlandes. Nardus 2: 272 p.

Adolphi K. (2001) In jüngster Zeit entdeckte Neophyten und Überlegungen über ihre mögliche Einbürgerung. Braunschw. Geobot. Arb. 8: 15-24.

Badalamenti E. (2019) Notes about the naturalization in Sicily of Paulownia tomentosa (Paulowniaceae) and remarks about its global spread. Fl. Medit. 29: 67-70. [available online at:]

Cunliff K.M. (1971) Trees for tomorrow. Trees S. Afr. 23(1): 21-22.

Essl F. (2007) From ornamental to detrimental? The incipient invasion of Central Europe by Paulownia tomentosa. Preslia 79(4): 377-389. [available online at:]

Freeman C.C. (in prep.) Paulownia. In: Flora of North America Editorial Committee (eds.), Flora of North America, vol. 17. Oxford University Press, New York-Oxford. [available online at:]

Kiermeier P. (1977) Erfahrungen mit Paulownia tomentosa (Thunb.) Steud. im Rheingau. Mitt. Deutsch. Dendrol. Ges. 69: 11-22.

Langdon K.R. & Johnson K.D. (1994) Additional notes on invasiveness of Paulownia tomentosa in natural areas. Nat. Areas J. 14: 139-140.

Richter M. (2002) Die Bedeutung städtischer Gliederungsmuster für das Vorkommen von Pflanzenarten unter besonderer Berücksichtigung von Paulownia tomentosa (Thunb.) Steud. Universität Hohenheim, Institut für Landschafts- und Pflanzenökologie: VII + 331 p.

Richter M. & Böcker R. (2001) Städtisches Vorkommen und Verbreitungszentren des Blauglockenbaumes (Paulownia tomentosa) in Südwestdeutschland. Mitt. Deutschen Dendrol. Ges. 86: 125-132.

Sand S. (1992) A tree history: the empress tree Paulownia tomentosa has been both vilified and venerated. Amer. Horticulturist 71(6): 27-29.

Schmid M. (2005) Untersuchung zur neophytischen Gehölzflora im Stuttgarter Stadtgebiet. Jh. Ges. Naturkde. Württemberg 161: 178-257.

Smiley C.J. (1961) A record of Paulownia in the Tertiary of North America. Amer. Jour. Bot. 48(2): 175-179.

Verhaeghe P. (1999) Les plantes ligneuses exotiques subspontanées: découverte d’un Paulownia tomentosa dans le Parc Léopold à Bruxelles. Belgische Dendrologie 1999: 39-44.

Verloove F. (2002) Ingeburgerde plantensoorten in Vlaanderen. Mededeling van het Instituut voor Natuurbehoud n° 20: 227 p.

Williams C.E. (1983) The exotic empress tree, Paulownia tomentosa: an invasive pest of forests. Nat. Areas J. 13: 221-222.

Williams C.E. (1993) Age structure and importance of naturalized Paulownia tomentosa in a central Virginian streamside forest. Castanea 58: 243-249.

Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith