I saw an Empress tree for the first time last week and was taken back by what looked like small brown lemon-sized clusters of fruit hanging from its branches. What a curious sight. It has been pointed out that the botanically commonly named Empress tree is Paulownia tormentosa, named after Princess Paulowna of the Netherlands in 1835. Its royal name belies its reputation as a weed tree. It blooms beautifully from March to May when covered with fragrant and edible trumpet flowers from violet to azure with creamy stripes and purple dots.
On closer inspection, the “lemons” looked more like brown walnut shells split in two. The closer she got to the tree, the less her charm was. The large, catalpa-like dark green leaves that appear after the flowers fall continuously without coloration during the summer and early fall. The seeds are carried by animals and release up to 2,000 winged seeds. It is difficult to get rid of seedlings when they fall to the ground and take root.