Paulownia tomentosa (Princess tree)
Species: Paulownia tomentosa
Common names: Paulownia, Princess tree, Empress tree
Paulownia spp. (About 17 species) are native to much of China, south to northern Laos and Vietnam, and long cultivated elsewhere in eastern Asia, notably in Japan and Korea. They are deciduous trees 12–15 m tall, with large, heart-shaped leaves 15–40 cm across, arranged in opposite pairs on the stem.
The flowers are produced before the leaves appear, in early spring on panicles 10–30 cm long, with a tubular purple corolla resembling a foxglove flower. After flowering, large heart-shaped leaves appear.
The fruit is a dry capsule, containing thousands of minute seeds.
The genus, originally Pavlovnia but now usually spelled Paulownia, was named in honour of Queen Anna Pavlovna of The Netherlands (1795–1865), daughter of Tsar Paul I of Russia. It is also called "princess tree" for the same reason.
In their native Asian region the Paulownia is grown not only for its beauty, but also for its timber which is used primarily in furniture making. Tradition has it that in Korea a Paulownia is planted to celebrate the birth of a daughter and, at her coming-of-age; the timber is used to make her dowry chest or glory box. Here in New Zealand the Paulownia grows more quickly than in its native homeland so the timber it produces is softer and has little commercial value.
Several of these trees can be seen on the Te Henui walkway just south of Spencer Place