Skip to content

Princess Tree

Originating in central and western China, the Princess Tree (Paulownia tomentosa), is often unsurprisingly described in both orientalist and misogynistic terms: showy, aggressive, ornamental, persistent, exotic, and invasive. The Princess Tree is my personal hero.

Princess Tree 2edit.jpg

But neither its common nor scientific name in the West have their roots in the plant’s home country and are instead derived from the vestiges of the Silk Road. In the early 1800s, botanists employed by the East India Trading Company of the Netherlands brought a specimen of this tree back from a trading expedition in China. In an effort to curry favor they seized upon the idea of naming it after the newest member of the royal family, Princess Anna Pavlovna of Russia who had recently married the heir to the throne. Aware of the princess’ penchant for pomp and circumstance they hoped this “showy” tree whose purple flowers can hardly be missed would impress upon her the necessity and import of their work. Judging by their later success, it seems their gift could not have hurt.  

20414200_1668300459878628_2408957613453197143_o.jpg

Nor was the tree undervalued in its place of origin and indeed Chinese records dating back to the Third Century B.C. describe its medicinal, ornamental, and timber uses. Notably, it is employed as the wood for guqin, a plucked seven-string Chinese zither associated with scholars and literati as well as Confucious. These days, it’s also used to make Dean ML XM electric guitars and custom made surfboards.

20023914_1379068565475175_7674455400728209717_o.jpg

 Japan jumped on the bandwagon of this woody deciduous tree where it became common practice to plant a Princess Tree on the date of a baby girl’s birth and make a dresser from its wood as a wedding gift.

cropped-princess-tree.jpg

As of 1840 the United States had yet to enjoy the broad leaves and audacious blooms of the Princess Tree. But as luck would have it, nautical wunderkind and soon to be Civil War hero, Samuel Francis Du Pont was dispatched to China as the Captain of the ship carrying the United States’ representative to the negotiations for the end of the Opium Wars. While waiting for his passenger to complete his deliberations, Du Pont went on a shopping spree for porcelain that was packed in the seed pods of the Princess Tree much like one would use packing peanuts. Back home in Wilmington, Delaware, Du Pont planted the seeds on his estate and the Princess Tree took off from there. And yes, if you were wondering, it is that Du Pont.

Princess Tree

Currently, Princess Trees are easily found in Bushwick junkyards, halfway up East Village apartment buildings, and parking lots in Queens.

IMG_20160730_191120

IMG_20160807_105034.jpg

IMG_20160710_181604

11906817_981769371865077_3405651110161406291_o.jpg

IMG_20160715_132459

Paulownia tomentosa - Princess Tree

IMG_20160702_104758Paulownia tomentosa - Princess Tree

Paulownia tomentosa - Princess Tree lowrider

IMG_20160828_112228

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

Follow me on Twitter

%d bloggers like this: