Paulownia Characteristics and Uses

A fast-growing, light and strong semi-tropical wood, Paulownia has enough value to be worth stealing. Here's an example growing on a bathroom windowsill. September 5, 2010

I have a client who needs help. They have this Paulownia princess tree growing out of their second floor bathroom. That's not a misprint; see the photo. The house has been vacant 20+ years and it's in a historic district. They've been ordered by the city to stabilize the property and that includes removing the tree from the masonry.

Paulownia is a notoriously stubborn tree with a tenacious ability to sprout new growth when its canopy is cut back. What are the chances of a successful removal without new growth and are their any special tips?

Second, I've seen some web claims that Paulownia is a desirable wood that dries fast; good for music instruments and cabinets. If the tree has to be taken down carefully anyway because of the historic building, are there any prospects for milling the trunk into something usable? The trunk is about 18" diameter and 8-10 feet clear above the brick sill that the trunk has subsumed, but there's a good deal of sweep in the length. Owner is building a large addition (office, kitchen, library, board room) so they could possibly use the wood themselves.

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Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor R:
I think the best thing to do with that tree is give it away for free, if you can.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Indeed, the wood is valuable, especially to the Japanese. However, just one log is seldom that valuable, as marketing the lumber would be hard to do.

(I think it was about 15 years ago that someone, over a long 3-day weekend, cut down a bunch of paulownia logs that the City of Baltimore had planted for landscape purposes. By the time the theft was discovered, the trees or logs were likely on a boat and long gone from the area.)

From contributor A:
As I work with it, I like the wood more and more. I have found it to be rot resistant and termites do not like it. It dries easy and fast with little defect other than a light sticker stain if not laid with dry stickers. The wood makes good paneling, and some here are starting to carve it. Has a nice finish and machines and glues well. You will have to remove the stump or it will sprout back.

From contributor D:
During this time of year, pour some Tordon RTU (Ready to Use) around the cambium layer within one hour after cutting the tree. But if they are going to put the building back together, might as well remove the tree roots and all. Curious... is the tree growing out of the toilet?

From contributor C:
Be very careful using Tordon of any kind, as it is extremely soil active. It can and will move off of the site, so make sure you read the labels. I would recommend Round-up that has glyphosate above 40% active ingredient. There are many generic types of Round-up out there that will work just fine and will most likely be cheaper.

From contributor B:
I had a friend take down an eight year old tree (amazing!). The wood is as contributor A says, and it is very lightweight when dried. It is also sought after for crating because of its strength/weight ratio.

Click here for higher quality, full size image

From the original questioner:
Thanks for all the info. Interestingly since my original post, I found a photo of the location in 2000 and the tree was not there. The Paulownia in the original photo is less than 10 years old. It's in Washington, DC.

From contributor J:
I don't know the market now, but in 1975 they were stealing them out of people's yards! I paid $1.00 a foot, sold for $3.00... Good the whole three weeks it lasted!

From contributor S:
Ha! Paulownia is the wonder tree that is going to save our rainforests. You can harvest it in 10 years, it's as light as balsa and as strong as hardwoods, has great grain and is a very sustainable product that can be used for anything. I know some HWS (hollow wood surfboard) builders that would pay good money for that wood in your area. There are lots of guys on the east coast who are buying it but they can only get container loads from Australia. And none of them can afford that for their hobbies. I think the going rate is about $10-11/bft.