Meet the Empress Splendor

One of the world's fastest growing trees

3 months

1 Year

10+ Years

The Empress Splendor

Record-breaking growth

The Empress Splendor (botanical name Paulownia fortunei and P. elongata) is the one of the fastest-growing trees in the world. A hardwood, it can grow 10-20 feet in its first year and reaches maturity within 10 years.

This picture shows a 2 year old tree grown in Alabama.

  • Fastest growing tree in the world
  • First harvest within 10 years
  • Highest strength/weight ratio of any commercial wood
  • Regenerates without replanting, providing ongoing revenues for 7 harvests
  • Non-invasive, non-GMO premium varieties
  • Suitable for inter-cropping
  • Will grow on marginal land and can be used for soil restoration
  • Nitrogen fixing leaves naturally fertilize and replenish the soil
  • Flowers provide pollination benefits and attract honey bees
History of the Empress

A sacred tree

The Empress Splendor (Paulownia) is a sacred tree of the Orient, long revered for its fast growth, quality wood and uses in traditional Chinese medicine. In Japan, it is the emblem of the prime minister.

In Japan, they associate the Empress Splendor tree with good fortune:

“They used to call paulownia ‘gold wood’ because you could pretty much sell the wood from one paulownia tree and buy a new car with the proceeds. When you gave birth to a daughter, you’d plant three paulownia trees, so that they’d be grown by the time she was ready to marry, and you could use them as dowry.” – Takeshi Suzuki.

Paulownia was once native to North America, but is not as well known here.  Fossils of the leaves dating back to 40,000 years ago have been identified in Washington State.

“Rapid growth, high quality timber, prolific flowers, ability to coppice and regrow, along with being able to grow in depleted soils, and a natural resistance to insect and disease pressures, make Paulownia trees an extremely useful and valuable plant in the permaculture toolbox.”

- KW Homestead

A natural solution

Non-invasive,
nature approved

Is this tree invasive? Will it cause harm to ecosystems where it is planted? The short answer is: no.

There are between 9 and 23 species of Paulownia. One of these, the Paulownia tomentosa, is on the invasive species list. World Tree does not grow that variety. We grow Paulownia fortunei and Paulownia elongata, neither of which is invasive.

All Paulownia are prolific seed producers. However, the seeds are extremely hard to germinate – except under very rare conditions. That’s why  we grow all our trees from tissue culture.

Paulownia does not have a detrimental impact on the environment. Quite the opposite. The tree’s natural ability to fix nitrogen and its nectar-rich flowers enhance rather than detract from the environment and Paulownia is becoming popular with the permaculture and ‘food farm’ community. 

The Rainforest Alliance is internationally recognized as a certification program for sustainable forestry and best practices for tree planting and agroforestry. It has reported that the Paulownia tree as an ecologically sound tree for the purposes of reforestation and carbon sequestration.

Ecosystem services

Carbon sequestration

Leaves are the lungs of the tree, absorbing carbon from the air for photosynthesis. The enormous, heart-shaped leaves of a young Empress Splendor tree suck carbon from the air at a tremendous rate.

A recent report by NatureBank found the Empress Splendor to be one of the most efficient trees for sequestering carbon on the planet. One acre of Empress Splendor trees can sequester between 15-30 metric tons of carbon per acre per year over a 10 year growing cycle.

Studies indicate that the Empress Splendor tree uses a unique and powerful type of photosynthesis. This system is found in only about 3% of all land plants, including some grasses like corn and sugarcane, but very few trees. This makes the tree highly efficient at sequestering carbon and storing large amounts of organic matter in its leaves. 

Regenerative

The seven generation tree

Perhaps the most impressive property of the Empress Splendor (Paulownia) tree is its ability to regenerate.

After harvest, the tree regenerates from the stump – without replanting. The strong, healthy root system produces vigorous new growth, which with proper pruning will quickly develop into a new tree.

This ability of the tree to replace itself without replanting makes it a truly sustainable, self-renewing source of timber for generations to come. The Empress Splendor will typically regenerate up to 7 times.

Ecosystem services

Companion planting

Empress Splendor trees intercrop well with many other plants, providing them with natural protection from the elements. In Latin America our farmers intercrop with coffee, cacao, plantains, corn and many other crops. The large leaves and rapid growth of the trees provides shade to the companion plants.

The deep root system of the Empress Splendor means they don’t compete with the other plants. It’s a perfect partnership.

Ecosystem services

Nitrogen fixation

The Empress Splendor tree also has special nitrogen-fixing properties that allow it naturally return nitrogen to depleted soil through its leaves and root systems. This process is most often found in legumes, and rarely in trees. 

Nitrogen deficiency in soil is a result of industrial farming practices and a serious challenge to agriculture around the world. Farmers must spend millions of dollars a year on synthetic nitrogen fertilizers to ensure their crops’ survival.

Empress Splendor trees provide a natural solution to nitrogen deficiency. The leaves make excellent fertilizer estimated to contain over 3% nitrogen content. 

Together with increased carbon in the soil, the nitrogen rich soil can retrain water more efficiently and provides a much more robust and resilient environment for all the plants and trees in the area. 

Ecosystem services

Pollination service

The blossoms of the Empress Splendor tree are highly “nectariferous” creating a much-needed source of nectar for pollinating insects including honeybees. It is estimated that one acre of Empress Splendor tree blossoms can generate enough nectar to produce 100 jars of honey per year.

Without effective pollination services, one third of global agriculture would not be possible. The Empress Splendor therefore has a critical role to play in maintaining healthy agricultural systems, especially when planted with or close to other flowering crops such as coffee.

Ecosystem services

Other benefits

Animal feed

The leaves of the Empress Splendor tree contain over 20% protein and are excellent feed stock for ruminants. 

Green fertilizer

Because the leaves of the Empress Splendor tree are high in protein, nitrogen, fats, sugars and phosphorus, they can form the basis of excellent green fertilizer. The nitrogen content in the leaves is comparable with the content of legume leaves. This makes there application an excellent way to enrich organic soil matter.

Bioremediation

Empress Splendor trees grow well in nutrient poor and even contaminated soils. The tree has been used successfully in mine reclamation projects shown to absorb heavy metals and nitrates. They can also be used as buffer around livestock operations and arable farms to prevent leaching.