I read with great interest recently the story of an Upper Falmouth tree farmer who believes he’s struck a green-gold mine. Peter Maxner may have sold out of all 480 Empress Splendor saplings he had this year, but he won’t have to wait long for the next crop.
These incredibly fast-growing trees can soar 10 to 20 feet high during the first growing season. In this era of carbon footprint consciousness this large-leaved cultivar developed by World Tree Technologies acts as a huge carbon sink compared to other trees.
The Empress Splendor can grow to hardwood saw timber size in 7-10 years and is touted as yielding an average of 30,000 board feet per acre. After World War II, the Chinese credited the "economic recovery' of the lumber industry in their country to the Empress tree. In the past five years they’ve planted over 1.2 billion trees for agro forestry and lumber production.
The wood is a pale blonde to a light honey color with a gradual transition from sapwood to heartwood. The timber has a long straight grain, a silky feel, is relatively odorless and mostly free from knots.
It’s easy to plane, cut, and carve with little splitting or chipping. One of the legends associated with this tree tells of how when a daughter was born, a tree would be planted by her father. Once she was betrothed, the tree was felled and the lumber was used to make a tansu, or dowry chest. Other parts of the tree were used to make furniture, ornaments, musical instruments and decorator items for the extended family. The top of the tree was used for firewood and ground cover. The wood is also burned to make charcoal for sketching.
The tree will re-grow from the stump at least half a dozen times if felled.
One of my concerns with introducing a very fast growing woody plant in this climat is its tendency towards winterkill. Because young tissues don’t have a chance to harden off sufficiently before freeze up, limbs can die and leave unsightly gaps or become weak and break off in storms. I suspect this is a tree that requires considerable pruning from damage. Another concern is the potential for invasiveness. However, developers say the seedpods are sterile.
That’s good. The Empress Splendor is a hybrid of two varieties of the Paulownia tree, one species of which (P. tomentosa) is listed as an invasive plant in the southeastern United States, having been introduced there as an ornamental tree for its decorative flowers.