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Princess tree flowers

Princess tree (Paulownia tomentosa)

A rapidly growing tree in the figwort family that gets to be 30-40’ tall. Young trees looks like a pole with leaves branching off of it for the first few years. It is often cut back completely when immature but grows back even taller. Twigs are covered with many white lenticels and the grayish brown bark is thin and rough with random smooth areas.


Regulated areas of princess tree
Princess tree is Prohibited (Red counties)

Other names for this plant include:

  • Common names: empress tree, karritree, kiri, royal paulownia, fox-glove tree, quiri
  • Scientific names: Paulownia imperialis; Bignonia tomentosa

Ecological threat:

  • Grows in disturbed areas, rock outcroppings, streambanks, forest edges and roadsides.
  • Can crowd out native trees due to its fast growing nature.
  • Being used in plantations for timber production.
  • Commonly sold as an ornamental.

Classification in Wisconsin: Prohibited

Species Assessment Groups (SAG) were assembled to recommend a legal classification for each species considered for NR 40. The recommendation for princess tree was based upon this literature review developed by the department.


Leaves: Simple, heart-shaped, and opposite or whorled. The leaves are very large when the tree is young, but do get smaller when mature (5-12” long and 5-9” wide). Leaves also have long petioles and are hairy on both sides of leaves when young becoming smooth on top as the tree matures. Leaves can also be slightly lobed.

Flowers: Lavender with 5 petals, the bell shaped flowers are 2” long and occur in long upright clusters. Flowers can look similar to those of foxgloves. Blooms before leaves are produced in the spring and produce a vanilla scent.

Fruits & seeds: Capsules are formed in clusters and have an oval shape. The capsules start off light green in the summer and are sticky turning tan and drying in the winter. Each capsule contains up to 2,000 winged seeds which are readily dispersed by wind and water.

Roots: Roots can grow up to 15’ in one season and have adventitious buds that can survive fire and mowing.

Similar species: Catalpa spp. (Catalpa speciosa, Catalpa bignonioides) have very similar shaped leaves but have flowers that are white and produce long slender bean-like seedpods.


Known county distribution of princess tree
Counties in WI where princess tree has been reported (as of July 2011). Both vouchered and unvouchered reports included.

Currently, there have not been reports of princess tree in WI. Have you seen it? Send us a report.


Mechanical: Seedlings can be hand pulled.

Chemical: Cutting or girdling followed by an application of glyphosate or triclopyr; basal bark with triclopyr.


View princess tree pictures in our photo gallery!


Sources for content:

  • Czarapata, Elizabeth; Invasive Plants of the Upper Midwest: an illustrated guide to their identification and control. University of Wisconsin Press. 2005. Pg. 124
  • Invasive Plant Atlas of New England: Princess tree [exit DNR].
  • Remaley, Tom. Plant Conservation Alliance Factsheet: Princess tree [exit DNR]. Last updated July 7, 2009.

Links for More Information

Last revised: Monday June 03 2019