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Beginner Landscaping: The royal empress tree - what is the real story?

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Forum: Beginner LandscapingReplies: 28, Views: 637
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Debary, FL

August 27, 2007
4:26 PM

Post #3905618

I was given a root stem from a Royal Empress tree. My neighbor, who loves trees gave us one and we planted it in a pot to start it growing. I am concerned because some sites say that it is a very intrusive tree. I do not want one that is going to overgrow my yard, but would like to plant a tree in front of my house that will grow rapidly. I have sycamores in my yard, but i need something to give the front of our house some afternoon shade. Any information or help would be appreciated.
Hillsborough, NC

August 27, 2007
7:09 PM

Post #3906298

If you go to Guides and Information (one of the top tabs in Daves Garden) and then click on 'Plant Files' and type in 'Empress Tree' in the 'Search' spot, there is a great deal of info and comments from people who have it or know of it, etc.
Dublin, CA
(Zone 9a)

August 27, 2007
7:14 PM

Post #3906316

It is very invasive, I don't know about Florida specifically, but it's a problem in other areas of the South so that would mean it'll be problematic in Florida too. It may not appear too terribly aggressive in your own garden, but keep in mind that it spreads is by seeds which can travel a decent distance away from your tree, so you're not going to see most of the babies. When the seeds get out into natural areas, that's where it causes big problems, crowding out native vegetation and multiplying like crazy.
Hillsborough, NC

August 28, 2007
12:13 AM

Post #3907462

Also something else to think about --I know that trees that grow very fast here in NC (and I think the empress tree (Paulownia) does well here but we are warned about it because of the invasiveness issue) are brittle and break very easily. I always see the ornamental pear trees --very fast growers --split down the middle or snapped right in half after a good stiff storm or wind event.
United States
(Zone 9b)

September 14, 2007
4:28 PM

Post #3974779

Yes yes the bradford pear and empress trees are very fragile. There is a quote by someone famous...forget who???? But it's something to the effect that a wise man plants trees for his grandchildren. So basically you want trees that will last a lifetime at least. I had thought this empress tree sounded awesome myself until I read up on it. Good luck!
Nolensville, TN

May 29, 2009
4:25 PM

Post #6614077

I am thinking of ordering 5 Royal Empress trees for beauty/privacy in a bare field between my house and some other houses. I have read a lot about the invasive trees but have found some nurserys that carry the cloned, sterile trees and they are not invasive like the wild trees. Anyone know if this is accurate? I want to order but am feeling skeptical...
Dublin, CA
(Zone 9a)

May 29, 2009
7:16 PM

Post #6614704

I am not aware of any Paulownias that are sterile, so I would be very suspicious of anyone claiming to have one to sell you.
Wichita, KS

July 2, 2009
2:12 PM

Post #6767755

Well I tell you that I got a few beautilful royal empress trees from They also do a good job at the fast growing site.
Melfa, VA
(Zone 8a)

July 17, 2009
10:43 PM

Post #6832252

I have 3 because I need a tree that will grow pretty fast so I can actually see it grow bigger than 8' tall before I am gone!!!
Leicester, NC
(Zone 8a)

August 23, 2009
6:19 PM

Post #6979762

estrail, thats what I'm talkin bout . too funny!!!
Wilson, NC

October 16, 2012
10:07 PM

Post #9307627

I have two Empress Trees in my back yard. Too many people spend too much space about the invasiveness. Here's the good stuff:
1) It grows fast
2) It has large leaves that provide a lot of shade
3) The flowers are beautiful
4) The fragrant is a strong spiced sent, like "stock" flowers. Even the decaying flowers give off the perfume.

Someone somewhere said it is hollow = bolderdash. I had one cut down and it definitely was not hollow.
The reason I had one cut down was because it was was sitting on a lot of black plastic -- inherited from past property owner -- and the tree was leaning too far forward, about to slip on the plastice, as a result of the September 2011 Hurricane (Eastern NC).

Down side?
1) Messy -- lots of flowers, lots of seed pods, lots of big leaves.
2) Yes it is prolific, but not as much as a privet/ligustrum, or some holy, or Yuccas (I wish I could rid myself of the Yuccas), or mulberry trees. The cedar in one corner of the yard has more seedlings come up than we get from the Empresses. OH and pines. All those needles, cones, and volunteer pine trees.

So, in the South, plant life is lush, and its easy to have it get out of control. So what. Deal with it. I find it amazing that an Empress can be growing out of the side of a rock cliff.

My wife and I like the flowers and perfume. We also like the birds that perch on it, and nest in it.
We wish ours were in the front, so that we could get the perfume in through the house, when in season.

Opp, AL
(Zone 8b)

October 17, 2012
1:20 PM

Post #9308132

There's no doubt it's officially classified as a noxious weed, a giant one.
South Central, KY
(Zone 7a)

December 23, 2012
10:08 AM

Post #9365411

I have a sterile Royal Empress tree on the side of the house and absolutely LOVE it!!
The shade in the summer is awesome!
The leaves are so heavy, however, that the branches get weighed down almost to the ground.
I live on a farm, and my chickens take advantage of the shade during the hot summer months.
I also set up my little bistro set under the tree to sip my tea/coffee and watch nature.
The Spring blossoms are amazing eye-candy.
I raise sheep so I let my sheep eat the large leaves that fall (it's very nutritious).
I also use the leaves in my compost pile since they're very high in nitrogen.
The leaves are LARGE (we're talking about a foot wide) and easily raked or picked up.
I'm online now looking to buy more of these trees because I want to put a few in every one of my pastures so my sheep can have plenty of shade during the summer and can also have plenty of these leaves to munch on as they fall.
The tree was delivered as a little twig with four leaves.
Three of the leaves fell off shortly after planting; however, within a year the tree had grown to 6 feet.
Currently, the tree is about 40-feet tall.
We get very strong winds here and have had no problem with this tree - ever.
I will try to find some pics of my tree and post them here.
Bottom line . . . I absolutely LOVE this tree!

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Dublin, CA
(Zone 9a)

December 23, 2012
12:42 PM

Post #9365478

I doubt if it's sterile...never heard of a sterile variety of this tree. It's not too bad about seedlings showing up right around the parent tree, so people will think it's not invasive because they're not finding seedlings in their own yard, but there are likely seedlings showing up somewhere else (down the street in someone else's yard, or in nearby fields, etc.)
South Central, KY
(Zone 7a)

December 26, 2012
11:13 AM

Post #9367580

All I know for sure is the nursery sold "sterile" varieties because that's what people wanted.
We are surrounded by 50 acres of land (all ours) and there are NONE of these trees growing anywhere.
And I'm actually one of those people (probably the only one on the face of the earth) who actually WANTS another of these trees growing on my property.
Dublin, CA
(Zone 9a)

December 26, 2012
12:43 PM

Post #9367657

Interesting--never heard of a sterile variety before. That would be nice if there was one though!


Scott County, KY
(Zone 5b)

December 30, 2012
9:43 AM

Post #9370533

Those supporting the use of a known pest plant (invasive in the complete sense) have constructed an interesting argument. Apparently, the acreage that they currently occupy must have been vacant and is only rescued and improved by the introduction of this species. Also, there seems to be a blind urgency to believe the advertising of sterility - absent any proof of same. Have these folks also bought bridges and oceanfront property with similar claims?

I expect that some feathers will be ruffled by statements below, and by reading the comments above I expect individuals are quite hardened in justifying their positions. So be it - but facts are sometimes hard things.

Point by point:

**The shade in the summer is awesome!
Apparently, no other plants have been able to provide this benefit, at least to the satisfaction of the property owner. I wonder what is deficient with the native oaks, maples, hickories, tulip poplars, magnolias, etc. I live in KY and have traveled to VA and NC more than a few times. I see lots of trees that are growing quite well and to very large sizes in these states.

**I live on a farm, and my chickens take advantage of the shade during the hot summer months.
How did the chickens survive prior to the introduction of this plant? Surely, the poultry don't require this species alone.

**I also set up my little bistro set under the tree to sip my tea/coffee and watch nature.
One would need to look elsewhere to find nature, to be sure. This tree supports very little after its brief flower period.

**It grows fast
So do dozens of other trees that are not invasive non-natives.

**It has large leaves that provide a lot of shade
So do dozens of other trees that are not invasive non-natives.

**The flowers are beautiful
I'm unsuccessful at imagining a plant with unattractive blossoms. Bigger or smaller, yes, but all beautiful in myriad ways.

**The fragrant is a strong spiced sent, like "stock" flowers. Even the decaying flowers give off the perfume.
Have I got some viburnums for you...that will provide fragrance for two months or more. Not to mention lilacs, magnolias, etc. - none of which will run amok on property you don't manage.

**The Spring blossoms are amazing eye-candy.
I'm imagining dogwoods, magnolias, redbuds, serviceberries, and many more non-repulsive species that populate this region.

**I raise sheep so I let my sheep eat the large leaves that fall (it's very nutritious).
I'd love to see the animal husbandry research and publications that tout this method for raising sheep. All the Irish, Scots, and New Zealanders must be slapping their foreheads. None of my farmers market friends with sheep here in the Bluegrass have a single such tree on their properties.

**I also use the leaves in my compost pile since they're very high in nitrogen.
Kudos - are other trees' leaves not so endowed?

**The leaves are LARGE (we're talking about a foot wide) and easily raked or picked up.
I usually hear people complain about large leaves, such as those produced by Catalpa and Sycamore.

**I'm online now looking to buy more of these trees because I want to put a few in every one of my pastures so my sheep can have plenty of shade during the summer and can also have plenty of these leaves to munch on as they fall.
I'm glad that I don't live anywhere near this impending catastrophe. Adjoining property owners need to be vigilant in the face of this future trauma to their landscapes.

**Currently, the tree is about 40-feet tall. We get very strong winds here and have had no problem with this tree - ever.
That is evidence that the seeds produced by this tree will be delivered far and wide to unsuspecting recipients.

**I will try to find some pics of my tree and post them here.
Please post some current images of that tree. At that level of flowering, there will be seed pods galore all over it and very evident here in the winter. I think I can make some out in the fourth pic above, but it isn't clear at the resolution posted.

**I have 3 because I need a tree that will grow pretty fast so I can actually see it grow bigger than 8' tall before I am gone!!!
This post was made in 2009. This member is still with us, and I can say that almost any average ornamental tree planted as a seedling three summers ago in zone 8a VA would be in the eight foot tall range already.

I haven't had a good chance to rant like that in a while. I don't bear any personal grudge against any gardeners who experiment with growing plants - even known pest plants. What is disconcerting is when individuals go to great extent to justify these actions, especially in the face of plenty of evidence (not simple opinion or hyperbole) that there are terrible problems with these plants.

I wonder what these same individuals would have to say if a neighboring property owner were to invest in a species that they found preferable, but that would create difficulty for adjoining property owners' lifestyles? I'm sure that there are plants with known toxicity to sheep and poultry - not to mention highly allergenic and noxious plants like Tall Ragweed and various thistles. You may not believe it, but some of these are prized as support for bees and butterflies - and cultivated this way on purpose. I grow Gleditsia triacanthos myself - that supreme antagonist of tractor tires everywhere.

For a person in NC to be amazed at a plant growing out of a cliff is amazing to me. Your beautiful Appalachian region is full of plants that have done this throughout time. One by one, as these pest plants are introduced and propagated widely, there are less opportunities for those amazing plants like Rhododendron, Oxydendrum, Kalmia, Tsuga and countless others to occupy these spaces. Pay a visit to the Nantahala National Forest and parts of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to see some of the egregious problems caused by species like Paulownia tomentosa. I hope the south central Kentuckian doesn't live too close to Cumberland Falls or any of our other treasured public lands. We don't need that additional infestation displacing the wonderful native Umbrella Magnolia, Cinnamon Clethra, American Holly, and rare Mountain Stewartia found there.
South Central, KY
(Zone 7a)

February 8, 2013
5:23 PM

Post #9412504

We ordered four more of these trees (we currently only have the one).
My fence guys put up some more fencing so I'm planting one tree in each of the pastures that do not have any shade.
The trees won't be delivered until April, but that's okay.
And I do like the look of these trees.
Sure there are other trees that have large leaves and provide shade and good protein for livestock... but I like the Royal Empress trees for this purpose. Like sure there are other flavors of cake, but I like chocolate cake.
I'm the kind of person that would tell someone, if you don't like it, DON'T BUY IT. Duh!


Scott County, KY
(Zone 5b)

February 8, 2013
5:35 PM

Post #9412517

Well, chocolate cake doesn't blow down the road and infest your neighbor's property.

Your plant's seeds will, and your neighbor won't be buying them either. But you may have bought the trouble that eventually will come.

I'm imagining the huge grin (and bank account) on the faces of the frauds that continue to sell species like these to those whose eyes get so big...
Ayrshire Scotland
United Kingdom

February 12, 2013
9:52 AM

Post #9416647

I have just read up on this plant that throwing up such different views as to whether it is invasive, is it sterile etc, I dont grow this tree / shrub here in Scotland due to temp but curiosity killed the cat they say and I was just dying to find out more about this.

Have read that this tree can be and was grown from stool's, and cut right down to the ground Level so that they could be grown in large Park type bedding schemes, it also read that all plants taken / grown from Stooled plants would never flower (they were grown solely for the large leaves and cutting to grownd level gave larger leaves.

I was wondering IF being unable to flower gave non-fertile tree / plants therefore NON flowering means unable to set / spread seeds so would this throw any light onto this differing views.

I honestly dont wish to get into the in's and out's of should we be planting anything classed as invasive, they are listed for a reason and therefore I wont add to the spread of any type of plants listed especially as more informed people are able to tell us this important info BUT, I wonder if someone could maybe go along with this notion that IF stoolen plants cant flower, surely this would cause sterile plants so be grown from this method.

Interested in any opinions. WeeNel.
Dublin, CA
(Zone 9a)

February 12, 2013
12:23 PM

Post #9416772

You are correct that if the tree is cut down every year (or if it's in a colder climate where it dies back in the winter but sprouts from the base in the spring) then it won't bloom and also won't be invasive, but that's not the only reason why there are conflicting opinions on this.There are a couple other things that contribute to differing views. One is that this tree is invasive in some climates but not others. Where I live for example it's not considered invasive, but in much of the southeastern US it is considered invasive.

The other thing that makes it complicated is how people define invasive. This is not a tree that will pop up 5,000 babies in the garden of the person who planted it. Many gardeners only consider things to be "invasive" if they take over your garden and are hard for you to get rid of. This tree doesn't do that, most of its seedlings will end up a long way from your yard and if you do get a couple seedlings they're easy to eliminate from your yard. But the agencies that are responsible for officially classifying plants as invasive look at the impact of the plant out in the wild--in this case when a tree blooms it makes a ton of seeds that can spread a good way from the original plant, and if they get out in the wild where nobody mows/pulls the seedlings (or cuts the tree down every year), they can continue to spread and choke out native plants. But the person who planted the tree on their property won't necessarily see this happening.


Scott County, KY
(Zone 5b)

February 12, 2013
3:30 PM

Post #9416948

To be additionally clear: coppicing or stooling a tree doesn't make it sterile. It simply removes that year's opportunity for flowering, and then setting seed - same as snipping side buds off of a Dahlia while forcing energy into one big terminal flower. Snip that off - no bloom, but not because of sterility. Just removal of reproductive parts.

If one stops cutting down a Paulownia annually, it will flower and fruit the very next year.

This tree will produce seedlings anywhere that it is capable (meaning: soils, moisture, temperatures) whether in a garden or in the wild. As ecrane indicates, gardeners usually don't see seedlings of it because they are likely mowing them off, weeding them out, or have applied chemicals that would reduce/eliminate seedlings. But they are certainly capable of germinating in one's yard just as certainly as they've come to infest the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Nantahala National Forest, and quite a few other wonderful areas that don't need additional problems. I don't use "reckless" as an allegation very often, but it is choices and behaviors like this that lead the much more strident to call for bans on all non-native plants.

Our friend from south central KY may just as well be committing to infesting the Big South Fork National Recreation Area, Cumberland Falls State Park, and several other treasures of this beautiful place we call the Bluegrass State.


Prairieville, LA
(Zone 9a)

February 12, 2013
4:36 PM

Post #9417020

My neighbor has a very old Melia azedarach (chinaberry tree) in his yard...and in my yard, the 3 neighbors' yards behind him, the neighbors on the other side of him and the folks across the street. Every year, I pull dozens of them out of my flower beds and container plants and my husband mows them down in the lawn and sprays them with roundup in places the mower can't get to. Occasionally a seedling will escape detection...I have had to dig up gingers and shrubs to winnow out the escapees in the past. Birds and squirrels do an excellent job of spreading the seeds as do some of our 50 mile an hour thunderstorms. This tree is in a lovely yard with a number of lovely old oaks, so shade is not the reason it is neighbor thinks it has pretty flowers...but he keeps his yard free of seedlings, commenting "That rascal can sure put out a mess of little trees"...tongue biting has become a questionable virtue.
Ayrshire Scotland
United Kingdom

February 12, 2013
4:59 PM

Post #9417048

WOW Guy's, hold your horses, I was in fact agreeing that IF the experts add a plant to the invasive list, I would assume they know better than the hobby gardener like myself, I don't know all the in's and out of propagation other than what's been passed down to me from one generation to another, I know all about soil, altering the PH ect, but I was asking IF cutting the tree's down to ground level, and then removal of the new shoots with roots attached, would, as I had read, prevent the tree from flowering, I was asking also, would this cause the stooled NEW plant to be sterile as I am like ecrane and cant think how you produce a plant that is sterile from a parentage that is fertile.
I'm sorry if I never put this across as a question rather than a fact, maybe the way my brain was working as I put the words to paper came across as I knew better however, let's just agree that there will always be people who will ignore any warnings or who think they know best, but that is fact of life the world over..
I gave up trying to inform people of plants that here in UK are dangerous or invasive like Japan knot weed or Giant Hog Weed, but hey, some folks know best and regardless of all the problems they inflict on others for years to come, they still think they know best.
As I cant and don't grow the the Empress Tree, I'll leave it at that.

Thanks for the info, I thought I would like to know a bit about something like sterile plants, than learn nothing at all. Thankfully, gardening is all about learning no matter how long you do it.
I understand that different areas may not be troubled regarding invasiveness due to climate ect but in UK when a plant is added to this list it is usually a country wide ban as nature can also add to the spread of seeds, people can carry tiny bits of plant or seeds on boots / shoes while walking riverbanks or through areas and this can help spread the plants area to area, hence the countrywide ban.

Right now we in UK are trying to control the spread of the wild Rhododendrons that grow like wildfire and choke out all other vegetation in the same area, however now, they have discovered that this Rhododendron is also the host plant for a fungal disease that is spreading and effecting/ killing Larch, and many other trees, now we are asked to cut and burn this species of Rhododendron BUT, we already have a group who love the sight of this purple flowering tree along railway banks and woodland edges, so they want to stop the burning, so there's another example of novice Knows best.
best regards, WeeNel.


Prairieville, LA
(Zone 9a)

February 12, 2013
5:09 PM

Post #9417061

I hear ya WeeNel, and did not question that you were in agreement...There are a lot of things that are native in origin, but that doesn't mean they are necessarily beneficial as you are seeing with the Rhododendrons...nor necessarily welcome like the alligators in swimming pools in Florida.
Ayrshire Scotland
United Kingdom

February 13, 2013
2:11 PM

Post #9417985

HA, HA, HA, the Moon, that brought a wee smile to my face about the Alligators !!!!,
take care, WeeNel.
Clifton, VA

July 7, 2014
9:08 AM

Post #9887695

I have two Empress trees. I cut them back to about 7' each fall. They have yet to flower, but grow back quite vigorously each spring yielding a ~15' tree with a nice canopy of their large leaves. Another nice thing is they don't seem to be as tasty to Japanese beetles, deer, etc as some other trees are.
Corinth, TX

September 27, 2014
7:10 PM

Post #9948982

I have read and studied about this tree for years. After looking at the invasive species map for Texas and saw that they listed one, I decided that that one tree must not be so harmful. So I have two. At this writing, they are about 9 feet tall and came from the ground around April. That's over a for per month my friend. I put up some video if you want to see.
Dahlonega, GA

March 5, 2015
8:44 AM

Post #10032414

Gosh , haven't been on this forum in several years .
I see some old friends here , Moon and WeeNel . Moon , who I've met and WeeNel that I'd love to meet .
Just my two cents . Chinaberry here in Texas has taken over the countryside in areas . It's considered a native tree . My neighbor behind me had one he refused to cut and I pulled the babies out of my lawn for several years until he had his place repossessed and my next door neighbor bought the place . First thing cut was that durn tree .Thank you , oh Power Above !
At home in the mountains of Georgia , the Empress tree grows anywhere , including in cracks of concrete next to brick buildings in town . Bad roots , they will eventually crack the brick as they get larger . They have widely spreading roots that will lift the foundation of homes and crack concrete floors .
I live on a dead end road seven miles from town and in the woods far from neighbors . We get one every year or two just come up , from where , I don't know . It is dispatched as soon as we see it .
There are several large groves of it in wooded areas behind the hospital and along the freeway on the edge of town . No one grows it on purpose .
I , for one think it's a beautiful tree , but the beauty doesn't offset the problems . I would have one in a minute if it wasn't for the seed shells left for tender feet to step on and the problems it can make for the future when established .
Like I said , my two cents and just saying .

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