Make Millions Growing Empress Tree

April 27, 2009 | By | Comments (39)

Does the current economic downturn have you singing the blues? Then do I have the tree for you! Not only does it have pretty blue flowers, but it also grows faster than Barney Frank’s datebook, and its wood is so valuable people that steal huge trees in the dead of night! So if you’re tired of slumming it in a 7,000 square-foot house — too embarrassed to have people over — plant a farm of empress trees and you’ll soon be hot-tubbing with T. Boone Pickens!

Many years ago, I had this very same idea as an unemployed college graduate, at a time when the economy looked just as promising as today’s. I was a history major, and while the vast majority of intelligent Americans were frantic to hear me recount the thrilling epic of the Taft-Harding Pimento Cheese Act, they just wouldn’t pay me for it. It was then, while reading the back page of that world renowned scholarly journal, Parade magazine, that I discovered the “miracle tree” that would bring me riches of Solomon.

DSCF1015
Empress Tree

Unfortunately, Parade totally missed the point. They extolled empress tree as a miracle shade tree that would grow 10 feet a year and flaunt giant, exotic leaves. You could almost see it grow, provided you have a really, really slow afternoon (like recent history grads often do). But they said nothing about how stinking rich you could become if you cut it down and sold its valuable wood.

Named for Anna Pavlovna, daughter of Czar Paul I, empress tree (Paulownia tomentosa) is native to China, where its wood has been used for more than 1000 years for making furniture, musicals instruments, carvings, pots, bowls, and spoons. The Japanese prize it highly for making sandals (click to see some nice ones). The reasons are that the wood is blond in color, very easy to work, nearly as light as balsa but twice as strong, has a silky feel, and resists insects and decay. Nice trees with straight trunks can fetch thousands of dollars, which is why they’re subject to rustling. Many landowners with empress trees on their property have gone to bed with good will towards all, only to discover stumps in the morning and then in fits of rage go off to join a mercenary army.

I didn’t have what it takes to be a rustler (a chainsaw and a pickup truck), but I did have a friend with some spare land. So I ordered 24 seedlings from a very disreputable mail-order nursery in Illinois (I won’t mention the name. Let’s just say it rhymes with “rowan.”) They were seedlings all right — tiny peat peat pots holding 3-day old seedlings that still had only their seed leaves. Most were already dead. When I complained, “Rowan” nursery suggested I give them a year to recover from transplanting shock. I replied that I would give them 30 days to refund my money or I would prosecute them for mail-fraud. They finally relented.

So there went my shot at becoming American royalty. I never did achieve my dream. But others have. A typical empress tree farm looks like this.

Paulownia

Empress trees are incredibly easy to grow. Of course, if you’re going to grow them for money, like this, you’ll want to give them fertile, well-drained and conscientious pruning. But like catalpa, mulberry, and tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima), it belongs to the garbage can class of trees. Not only does it seed all over creation, but it will grow in absolutely terrible soil where few other trees will. You’ll often see it growing on old mining sites, next to railroad tracks, or out of cracks in the pavement or on rocky cliffs. The trees at the top of the page are growing on buried busted-up concrete rubble. If you cut empress tree to the ground in spring, it absolutely will grow 10 feet in a year and sprout gigantic leaves. Lack of cold-hardiness is one limitation, though. Flower buds are usually killed north of the Upper South (Zone 6).

If you, like me, dream of being stinking rich and smoking Cubans in the hot-tub with T. Boone Pickens (wearing a suit), I actually have a good mail-order source for you: Forest Farm. Hey, if you’re graduating this spring with a history degree, what have you got to lose?

COMMENTS

  1. Steve Bender

    Marc,
    A good mail-order source for seeds is jlhudsonseeds.net.

    July 10, 2014 at 2:02 pm
  2. ralph

    i imagine if you put some ostriches emus or alpacas in there with them you could make billions

    July 8, 2014 at 7:55 am
  3. marc

    I am looking for the for the seeds to the real trees that they harvest for lumber???

    July 6, 2014 at 3:07 pm
  4. The Royal Empress Trees

    […] Make Millions Growing Empress Tree – The Daily South | Your Hub … I live in OK and want a fast growing shade tree. I heard you can get non invasive hybrids of the Royal Empress tree. Would that be acceptable? I want to plant it in a flat dry treeless back yard for fast production of shade. […]

    January 4, 2013 at 6:11 pm
  5. Steve Bender

    Max,
    If you allow the tree to grow into a a full-size tree, the crook at the bottom will become less noticeable. If the wood has hardened, there really isn’t anything you can do to straighten it. This doesn’t make it hazardous, as long as the trunk above it grows straight. As for where the lowest branches are, the height they are off the ground now is the height they will always remain. If that’s too low, cut them off.

    September 29, 2012 at 6:35 am
  6. max384

    I bought a three foot Royal Empress Tree two years ago. The first year it grew from 3′ to 5.’ Needless to say, I was quite disappointed, considering all the internet hype. Though, to be fair, I purchased it late in the summer. I cut it down to the roots at the end of the first year. The next year my dog kept tearing up the new shoots for the first few months of growth. I finally had to put a small electric fence around the tree to protect it from the dog. It ended up only growing three feet the second year. I was really disappointed with this small amount of growth in the second year as well. However, I did realize that my destructive dog had a lot to do with it.

    Well, finally this year it took off. I didn’t cut it down last year, so it started growing this year at 3′ tall. After about three weeks of growth, frost killed off all the new leaves. I thought ‘here we go again.’ Well, six months later and my tree is nearly 25′ feet tall with many branches! I couldn’t believe it. It actually grew about 20′ feet in only six months! The trunk went from about as thick as my thumb to 4-5″ in diameter. This thing is amazing!

    Anyhow, now that I’m done with my rambling, I have a few questions. I planted this so that I could have a fast-growing shade tree and as a tree for my kids to climb in. The trunk started off ever-so-slightly crooked at the beginning of the year. As it grew, the bottom became even more crooked, though it straightens out about two or three feet up the trunk. Is this something that will straighten itself out, or am I stuck with a crooked trunk? And, is there anything I can do to help straighten it, short of cutting it down? If it stays crooked, is this in greater danger of falling? Or is it mainly just an aesthetic complaint?

    I cut down the bottom five or six branches or so to give it more of a ‘tree look,’ since it looked more like an ugly bush with branches only a few inches off of the ground. The bottom branches are now probably about three feet off the ground. I don’t want the branches to stay this low. Will the branches ‘migrate’ up as it grows, or will they stay approximately this low to the ground? As you may be able to tell, I don’t have any experience growing trees.

    Thanks for your help!

    September 27, 2012 at 10:31 am
  7. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Eddie,
    The seeds of many trees need a cold period before they germinate. What I would do is place the seeds inside a ziplock plastic bag filled with moist potting soil. Seal the bag and put it in the refrigerator (not freezer) for 2-3 months. Then plant the seed.

    June 10, 2012 at 10:10 am
  8. Eddie J

    Grumpy Gardner,
    I really want to get some Empress Trees in my yard, they really look magnificant. My husband and I, trying to save money, purchased several hundred seeds for a couple of dollars. I’ve tried to grow them in sandy potting soil, expensive potting soil, inside, outside. These seem like such easy trees to grow, but it’s my frustration that’s growing. What do I need to do to get the seeds to grow?
    Thanks for your help

    June 4, 2012 at 3:51 pm
  9. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    I agree with you. There is no point in planting empress tree up north where the flower buds get killed in winter and the tree itself may die to the ground.

    April 17, 2012 at 11:35 am
  10. not an empress fan

    Very pretty ‘trees’ yet nearly every spring here in central Illinois we have a frost after the leaves begin to grow, and they don’t grow back. Funny how this can be called a tree when all the flowers around it survive a frost…
    always have to cut it back to the ground and let it begin again, very time consuming, very frustrating…

    April 14, 2012 at 1:03 pm
  11. Frank Marx

    The other day I was driving and saw a few empress trees in a person’s yard. They were about forty and fifty foot tall. I stopped at their house and asked the woman there if I could take some of her seed pods because I was really interested in empress trees. She was really nice. She said I could take any thing on them that I wanted. She also had a young empress tree that was about ten feet tall. It was sprouting from a root that was growing on the surface of the ground. The root was about as big around as your arm. The next day I went and dug up the ten foot tree. I also took a bunch of the brown seed pods that were growing from the tall trees. I also took a bunch of the small roots that were coming from the log when I dug it up. I transplanted the ten foot empress tree in my yard. I also planted the roots and planted the seeds in a pot with potting soil that were in the brown seed pods.
    What chances do you think I have of the tree that I dug up will live? All it is basically is a log that’s about three foot long with a ten foot empress tree sprouting from it. Also, what chances do you think I have of the seeds and the small roots that I planted in my yard are to survive the transplant? I also took a bunch of the green seed pods that were growing on the tall trees. Can I put them outside and have them dry up and then collect the seeds from them or is the only way that I can collect the seeds are from a dead seed pod? What time of the year do empress trees start having their seed pods turning brown where I can collect the seeds from the pods? Lastly, the log that I told you that I dug up was growing under this woman’s mobile home. The root can do a lot of damage to her residence. What can I put on the log to kill it so it doesn’t grow anymore trees or do any damage to her home?
    I really appreciate al of your help and advise!
    Sincerely,
    Frank Marx

    July 15, 2011 at 5:01 pm
  12. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    Frank,
    Cuttings root easily. What you want to do is take tip cuttings where the wood is green but firm. Dust the cut ends with rooting powder and stick them into pots filled with moist potting soil in the shade. If the leaves are big, cut them in half to reduce moisture loss. Paulownia is also easy to grow from seed, but to get seed, you first need flowers, and seedlings can take years to begin.

    July 8, 2011 at 11:13 am
  13. Frank Marx

    A few months ago I bought an Empress Tree (Paulownia tomentosa) from a local nursery. I live in South Georgia. It looked basically like a stick with a few hairs as roots. One out of three lived. The one that lived has several thin branches with medium sized leaves growing from them. I have never owned an Empress Tree. I’m curious. Can you propagate the thin branches by dipping them in root hormone and planting them in a pot with potting soil? Have you ever tried this and were you successful? How long do you think it will take them to grow pods that has the small seeds inside?
    Thanks a lot for your advise.
    Sincerely,
    Frank Marx
    Frankinmoultrie@gmail.com

    July 7, 2011 at 3:41 pm
  14. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    Keep pulling up the little trees and eventually you’ll get them all. The best way to kill a stump is to make a fresh cut and then paint the cut surface with either Roundup or Brush-Killer. Be sure to follow label directions.

    July 6, 2011 at 4:11 pm
  15. Ann

    How do you kill a Empress tree? We have cut it down, tried to remove its roots and put killer on it and it will not die. I get little trees all over. I need help.

    July 5, 2011 at 11:23 pm
  16. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    Pam,
    Are you sure it’s an empress tree and not a catalpa? They have similar-looking foliage. Catalpas are commonly known as “fishbait trees” and “worm trees,” because they attract big green Sphinx moth caterpillars that eat the leaves. If your tree has lots of ants, it’s probably because the ants are tending aphids on the foliage. From your description, however, I’d suspect a leaf spot fungus is the real culprit. Try applying Bayer Advanced Disease Control for Roses, Trees, & Shrubs according to label directions. Here’s a link: http://www.bayeradvanced.com/rose-flower-care/products/disease-control-for-roses-flowers-shrubs/questions-answers

    June 27, 2011 at 2:11 pm
  17. Pam

    Hi Grumpy, I have an empress tree and it’s 2 yrs. old. I didn’t cut it back this year and it’s only about 5.5 ft. tall. The biggest problem that I’m having is that ants are all over the thing, I read that catapillers like to munch on them but I never see any – just ants! The new growth is healthy and then as the leaves grow big they turn yellow – get brown spots, look like insects are eating holes in them and turn brown and die. I’ve used a good tree and shrub protect and feed on it and seven dust around the base as well. Any advise? It gets plenty of water and sunshine.

    June 27, 2011 at 9:51 am
  18. Grumpy Gardener (His Grace)

    Scratch the bark to see if you find any green underneath. Cut it back to the point where you find green. If it wasn’t completely dormant when the cold hit, it may be completely dead or at least killed to the ground. If the latter is true, it should sprout again.

    April 19, 2010 at 7:57 am
  19. James Jones

    First, I live in Fla. I have a 2 year old tree that i planted. Year 1 it really did not get cold here,so the tree did not lose its leaves. Year 2 really cold here in fla.It is April and i have not see any signs of life yet. Seems that it is dead to me. What should i do, wait for it to show signs of life or cut it down?

    April 19, 2010 at 6:14 am
  20. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    Thanks for the info, David. Now all of my readers know how Warren Buffett got so rich.

    February 26, 2010 at 1:36 pm
  21. David Morris

    Unfortunately much you said about paulownia is true except the get rich quick part. However for those in the reforestation business with paulownia you can recover your investment in two years and make an average of $160,000 every ten years on 2.2 acres of land.
    For reputable suppliers of paulownia seedlings, root cuttings and seedling clones you might contact paulownianow

    February 25, 2010 at 4:51 pm
  22. Grumpy Gardener aka His Excellency

    Probably to a foreign wood importer you find on the internet.

    January 3, 2010 at 9:36 pm
  23. Jim

    where do you sell the trees once grown?

    January 1, 2010 at 10:26 pm
  24. Grumpy Gardener aka His Excellency

    One of the weaknesses of the USDA Zone Hardiness Map is that it stretches zones all across the country. This implies that what grows well in Zone 7 in the East also grows well in Zone 7 in the West.
    Of course, this isn’t true, as anyone who has moved from California to Florida will attest. I don’t know the altitude where you live, but it appears to me that your climate causes your tree to go dormant very late in the year and that sudden cold damages it before it can harden off. So you end up with a big-leafed shrub that doesn’t flower. Unfortunately, I don’t know how you can chnage this. Empress tree just doesn’t fare well in your area.

    July 11, 2009 at 9:26 am
  25. MarcDRegan

    Hey there. I have been keeping an empress tree for 7 years now and the fast-growth claims are true: I’ve seen 12 feet in a growing season. Trouble is, where I live in Northern California each year’s first med/heavy frost knocks the tree to the ground–it appears dead but the next spring it again starts from scratch. Thing is, I’m looking for my tree to winter-over and then get taller the next year, and the next year, and the next. I see at the end of your article you’ve said that: “Flower buds are usually killed north of the Upper South (Zone 6).” I’ve never even seen a flower on mine; and I lose EVERYTHING each fall. Any suggestions on wintering-over my darlin? Thanks!

    July 10, 2009 at 10:22 pm
  26. Grumpy Gardener

    OK, you piqued the Grump’s curiosity. The empress tree I was talking about is Paulownia tomentosa. The buzz right now seems to be about an even faster growing species, P. elongata. This tree is said to grow up to 15 feet a year and has people excited about using it as a biomass source.
    Here’s a good link to find out more: http://www.worldpaulownia.com/
    Regarding the tree not being invasive like P. tomentosa, that’s the claim. I have my doubts. Many plants that aren’t invasive in their native habitat wreak havoc elsewhere. Buyer beware.

    June 12, 2009 at 4:37 pm
  27. Nic

    Seriously. I get confused on this subject. I live in OK and want a fast growing shade tree. I heard you can get non invasive hybrids of the Royal Empress tree. Would that be acceptable? I want to plant it in a flat dry treeless back yard for fast production of shade. Thanks for the help all!!

    June 11, 2009 at 5:56 pm
  28. Grumpy Gardener

    And if that doesn’t work, go to http://www.blowyourentirelifessavings.com to learn how hundreds of people just like you go from living in comfort to living in a trailer by pursuing hare-brained money making schemes!

    June 6, 2009 at 8:11 am
  29. Grumpy Gardener

    My wife says Richard Dawson kissing every female contestant on Family Feud was weird. But she’d do it for a new kitchen. Or a new pair of shoes.
    I’d do it for a submarine — the craft, not the sandwich.

    May 2, 2009 at 9:32 am
  30. Drew

    Didn’t win ! Got a bunch of prizes and a free trip out of it. Wife did kiss him 2 times. Last windfall paid for new windows and gutting and redoing a bathroom.

    May 1, 2009 at 4:06 pm
  31. Grumpy Gardener

    So what did you do with the $10,000?

    May 1, 2009 at 2:56 pm
  32. Drew

    T Boone and 10 million? When I was on Family Feud I was asked if I was going to let Richard Dawson kiss my wife. I replied for $10,000 I’d kiss him

    May 1, 2009 at 2:40 pm
  33. Grumpy Gardener

    Now is the time to prune your tree, although because of its young age, it doesn’t need much pruning. Just make sure that there is one main trunk and that the branches are well-spaced, not rubbing or crossing. I would think you can do the work with hand pruners. No need to paint the cuts — paint serves no function.

    May 1, 2009 at 1:39 pm
  34. Catherine

    Hey, Grumpy! please tell me when & how I should prune my 2yr old Cherry Blossom Tree??? Thanks sooooo much!
    Chesapeake, VA

    May 1, 2009 at 10:44 am
  35. Hal

    I have a better picture of one. If you want it, how do I send it to you?

    April 30, 2009 at 5:31 pm
  36. Grumpy Gardener

    Cameron, I’m not a lawyer, although I play one on TV. I give you my permission.
    Jean, for 10 millions bucks, I’ll hot tub with anybody!
    PC, don’t you want to be rich?

    April 29, 2009 at 7:11 am
  37. pc

    Very similar to folks wanting queen ann’s lace or golden rod in a garden. They grow all over pastures. Weeds, I tell you! Weeds!

    April 28, 2009 at 10:36 am
  38. Jean

    Grumpy, there is something very disturbing about you wanting to sit in a hot tub with T Boone Pickens!

    April 28, 2009 at 10:22 am
  39. Cameron (Defining Your Home Garden)

    I recently encountered a woman (a salesperson at a store) who, upon realizing that I was a gardener, said she wanted one of these trees. I stared at her in disbelief and couldn’t put my words together to discourage and sufficiently squelch her enthusiasm. Is it legal for me to print out your story and slip it under the door to her store?
    Thanks,
    Cameron

    April 27, 2009 at 5:12 pm

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