Ready and Waiting
Another cold and sunny day here. I walked down to the lower 40 (well, actually 20) to see how the hazelnuts are faring…and also the timber bamboo (Phyllostachys vivax). On the way, I passed by one of our Paulownia tomatosum trees. It has the most amazing marble-sized flower buds on it already. They are the color and texture of chamois, the softest, most velvety covering imaginable. These will open into large lilac-colored flowers held in panicles later in the spring. The tree is related to foxgloves (Digitalis) and the flowers bear a striking resemblance to each other. Since the leaves don’t emerge until after the blossoms, this is a stunning tree in flower.
Along with the buds, you can see the seed pods of last year. These seed pods can hold an amazing number of seeds. A mature tree can produce 10 million seeds a year! This explains why, where they germinate happily (the south-eastern US). they are a menace. Here, it is hard to get them to grow from seed as they are very susceptible to root rot and our soils tend to be heavy and wet.
The light, strong wood from these trees is valued for furniture, traditional sandals, and musical instruments in Japan. The fast growing trees were planted, in Japan, with the birth of a daughter. When she was of marriageable age, the trees would provide the wood for her furniture. We have a couple of 19th century tansu chests made of Paulownia in our living room. Another interesting factoid about the wood is that it requires a very high temperature to burn. For you science fiction fans, you might remember that paper ignites at Fahrenheit 451 degrees (though there is variability when considering paper content and book density). Paulownia doesn’t ignite below 797 degrees F (425 C).