Dulwich Trees - The Foxglove Tree - Paulownia tomentosa
by Stella Benwell
There is one of these unusual trees at the corner of Bowen Drive and Dulwich Wood Park, another in Clive Road and a new one has recently been planted in the Gallery garden. As its name implies it has flowers similar to the foxglove. The wide spreading branches only grow to about 15 metres. The flower buds appear in the autumn but do not flower until the following late spring and before the leaves. They are like candelabras of purplish blue bell- shaped flowers, highly scented. The leaves are very large and heart shaped, similar to the Catalpa, although they are not related. The fruits are two inch long sticky bean pods. The wood is the fastest growing hard wood in the world and the most versatile; it is light, warp resistant, with a beautiful grain and much prized. The tree was found in China in the 1830’s where it was used for timber, fuel and food. It is now planted extensively in America for its timber.
There are many legends about the Paulownia, and several delightful names. In China it is called the Empress tree because only an empress was entitled to have one planted on their grave. In Japan it is called the Princess tree and was planted to celebrate the birth of a daughter and because of its rapid growth could be cut down on her marriage to make a wedding chest, clogs or a musical instrument. It is also called the Phoenix tree because of its ability to re-grow from old root stock and therefore was planted near houses to bring good luck.
It seems rather sad therefore that here Paulownia are just pretty flowering trees in the streets or the parks and have no history.