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Specializing in Paulownia since 1989
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Paulownia FAQ

Is Paulownia toxic to wildlife?

Paulownia deer brose

Good Afternoon ...I am interested in raising Paulownia, either the tomentosa or catalpafolia, but need to ask about the toxic level of the plant prior to ordering seed from you. In my spare time, I assist a waterfowl rescue group. I live on 10 acres with a 1 acre pond in Southeast Texas. My personal waterfowl have access to most of my property (swans, ducks), plus I have an incredible amount of wild waterfowl and other wildlife that live/visit my property. I read on someone's web site that the Paulownia does have a toxic property, but it didn't say what or how. Are the seeds / leaves toxic if ingested? With all the wildlife there in Tennessee, I'm sure deer and birds have been exposed to both the seeds and leaves. Could you please let me know if the Paulownia tree will be harmful or not to my waterfowl / wildlife situation.

THANK YOU !!! Karen S.


Thank you for your interest and good question. The short answer is no, not to my knowledge.

Here is my reasoning behind this answer. About myself, I have a BS degree from the College of Agriculture at UT Knoxville in 1976. It was it Wildlife and Fishers Sciences. So, I have a very good background in wildlife. Further, I have been studying, observing, and raising Paulownia since 1988. Yes, I too read bad things too about Paulownia on the internet. Mostly how invasive it is. This is not true! It is a non-native to North America. The germination requirements greatly limit its ability to be anything more then a companion tree to other species. Some people just want natives. Everything else is bad news. Toxic is something new to me. It would be good if you could refer me to that site to look into the matter more. This is what I have learned over the years about Paulownia’s danger to wildlife.

  1. The Chinese feed the leaves to their live stock.
  2. Deer will eat the growing leaves and buds. The picture above has been eaten by deer. Look close and you will seed the damage as well as re budding growth.
  3. Though seed have little energy value, I have observed small birds getting the seed from the seed pods in the fall of the year.
  4. I have personally eaten young, tender, 8 week old Paulownia leaves in years past. I had have no ill effects. It is quite tasty, much like spinach or lettuce!

Hope that helps,

Does seed propagation produce bad seedlings? I read that clones are superior.

Paulownia elongata tree

Seed propagation does not produce bad seedlings! You just my not get the seedling you want. Genetics phenotype is the real question, not the health of the seedlings! With seed, you have unknown traits that will not be discovered until 5 to 20 years later. With clones, nothing is unknown. You have an exact copy of the mother tree. Tissue cultures are nothing more than clone trees that have been replicated through micro-propagation. The old fashion method of cloning is to use root cuttings.

For example, some people want to grow the paulownia trees slow for the Japanese’s markets; you do not want a tree that has “superior growth”. You would want a tree to have the genetics to put most of its energy into seed production, not wood production (slow growth). This way the annual growth rings could average 6 to 8 per inch.

You may want a tree that has a higher resistant to sun scald damage, or more tolerant to high clay content and poor drainage, or drought, or has more terminal growth, etc. You need to know what the clone’s better edge before you buy!

As for seed, there are 3 things in their favor.

  1. They are cheap! For investments, the less money used in the initial investment, the easier it is to make a profit.
  2. You get variance in the genetics. If planted thick, the trees most suitable for the site by natural selection and your needs can be selected as they grow. The others would scum to your saw.
  3. Since you started them form seed, you control their health. There are no issues with damage during the shipping process. You can get very healthy seedlings!

Personal, I have raised both types of seedlings. What I have found is my seed have both under performed and out performed paulownia clones. Most times, quality seed trees tend to produce quality trees which equals that of the internet's "superior clones" or even some times surpasses them. I have found that a excellent site selection/preparation effects performance the most.

The point I wish to make is: MOST ALL PAULOWNIA HAS THE GENETIC POTENTIONAL FOR FAST GROWTH IN THE EARLY YEARS, BUT GENTICS IS NOT THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR, IT IS ONLY ONE OF SEVERAL. Site selection (soil depth, drainage, orientation with the sun, wind protection) is just as important for good growth rates, along with length of growing season, fertility, moisture, weed control! The reason for the poor growth in the left picture is the soil. The left picture the top soil is deep & lose. The second picture, the top soil was little, with a hard pan underneath. In summary, if your paulownia does not grow as expected, it may not be the tree’s fault! Paulownia are VERY site sensitive. Any site, less then ideal, will have dramatic effects upon growth rates. I only got 18 inches for this clone elongata. Good genetics does not fix a poor site!!!!

The bottom line, if you go with clones, be sure the mother tree is “superior” for your specific needs and those need justify there high cost! The low cost of seed makes it easier to make a profit. If not for sure...... Start a test plot from seed. After the trees show themselves, pick the ones you like, dig some of their roots when dormant, and wa la,; you have their clones. Return of investment is the real question!

Hope that helps,

What is the best Paulownia for lumber?

After 20 plus years, I am still learning. Here in the states, elongata is the lumber tree of choice for lumber. However, all 4 species I offer make excellent lumber trees.

You really need to match the tree with the climate. Tomentosa, can take the coldest weather, zone (6a -10 Fahrenheit). Elongata can go to zone 6 b or (7a 0 to -5 Fahrenheit). Fortunei only to zone 10 (30 to 35 Fahrenheit). For fast growth here in the States, elongata seems to be the tree of choice in the South. Tomentosa is more suited in the colder climates where the growing seasons are shorter. For Indonesia where temperatures rarely get to freezing, fortunei would be the tree of choice. Just match the tree to the climate!

Hope that helps,

Why can’t or shouldn't you use sunlight and artificial light to get them to germinate.

First, let me state you can use sunlight with artificial light. That what nature uses. However, you must be careful. In nature, one seed out of a million may make it through the germination stage. My directions are design to minimize errors and to maximize seed germination; where you have total control of the environment. The issue with sunlight is: it can vary from day to day and will vary from hour to hour. Sometimes it can get quiet intense. Have you ever been in a car, windows up, middle of the summer, full sun, and cloudless day? Well, the seed cover in a clear plastic dome to help keep the moisture and humidity in. A full bright sun can cook your seed. If you must use the sun, use a cheese cloth (shading) that will still allow the light to enter, but will not hold the heat in. The intensity of the sunlight is so strong, there will still be plenty of light energy t get the seedlings up and started.

Second, there will be a lot more moisture lost each day without the clear plastic dome covering the flat to hold it in. To overcome this issue, it is best to continually water the flat by the wick method. Here is how it works:

Make sure your flat (holding the potting mix and seed) has holes in the bottom of it. Take a second flat that has a solid bottom for holding the water. Flats are usually 2 to 3 inches deep. Take the solid bottom flat and fill 25% to no more than 50% full. Take the first flat containing the soil less mix/ seed and place it on top of the water. It should want to float at first, then eventually settle to the bottom. At regularly intervals, (before the mix dries out) add water only to the second flat (no more than 50% full). The water will “wick up” to the first flat, keeping it moist at all times. You cannot over water tiny paulownia seedlings during the first 3 to 4 weeks of the germination process.

Hope that helps,

What fertilizer formula is best during Primary stage in the greenhouse and what dosage in grams/seedling?

I use an even blend of water soluble. The brand currently is Miracle-Grow. I have used Peters in past years. Bottom Line: any even blend water soluble brand should do just fine.

I have an instrument that measures the concentration. I keep it at about 700 ppm (part per million). If you do not have a salt meter to measure pm, the second method to measure would be to follow the direction on the package but dilute the fertilizer by half (50%). You can always put more on if needed. However, you can not take it off once your seedlings get burned and start dying off!

Never use any fertilizer at first! Commercial mixes usually have a slight amount to get seedlings started. If you do.....You may have an algae problem. (Yes, the germination environment needs to be that moist for the first 2 weeks!)

I start using it after the seed have fully germinated, which is usually 3 weeks. I will water will this mix till the seedling are deep dark green.

Once out in the field, nitrogen should be all you need. In 2010, I have applied about 0.5 pounds of 34/0/0 around each paulownia seedling when set out. Just out of root's reach (no closer than 9 inches from the stem). I did a second application about 6 weeks later, putting on 1.0 pounds of 34/0/0. The seedling ate it like candy and got between 7 and 12 feet tall that season.

Hope that helps,

Water need: how many liters/tree/day is needed is average?

For germination, you can not over water paulownia. The soil less starter mix needs to be saturated with water. But that is only for the first 2 weeks after sowing the seed. By week 4 and on, the mix only needs to be moist to touch.

In the field, it is better to under water. Over watering can kill the seedlings. The soil needs to be well aerated or fungi pathogens will attack the roots. This is why Paulownia does poorly in clays. The soil is tight and will not easily allow the water to drain or the air to enter the soil.

Personal, when setting out non-dormant seedlings in the field, I water heavy the day of setting. This is where I actually make a concave area of about 18 inches in diameter with the deepest spot in the center at 2 to 4 inches deep. The seedling goes in the center. The concavity is filled with water till it can hold no more and left standing to soak in. I may or may not water again. It all depends upon if we get rainy weather.

My judgment call for more water the for the first year is leaf wilt. Unlike most trees, Paulownia will show when it is in water stress. The leaves will droop! When you water, the leaves will perk back up. No damage or lost.

Wither right or wrong, I have never water Paulownia after the first year. It does cost $$$ to water and I have done so to established my seedlings the first year. If you want to push Paulownia to its full growth potential, I would suggest using a quality soil moist meter, find the sweet number on the meter, and pour it on.

Hope that helps,