The Paulownia of four months old, planted in Thailand on July 15,2003. This photo was taken on November 11, 2003
Once upon a time, when I was planting fruit garden in Thailand I had realized that the price of the fruits had become lower and lower. I began to look for some other interesting crops to plant in my farm. One day I found one of the most amazing trees I have never seen before .It is Paulownia tree. The tree can grow 5-7 meters in the first year but if you cut it back it can grow faster. The new shoot from stump of 8 months old, which was planted in mid-July 2003, cut to ground in mid-March 2004, grew more than 2 meters in only two months and more than 6 metres in 5 month as shown in the picture below. The picture was taken on August 16, 2004 and on my birthday May 16, 2004
Paulownia, originated from China, is a marvellous tree species with characteristic of fast growing, good wood quality, multiple uses, wide ranged distribution and easy propagation. It has also a unique biological character; its root system grows in deep earth and its crown develops in loose structure, which enable it suitable to be intercropped with agricultural crops or mixed planting with other shade-enduring trees. So Paulownia is also a good tree for development of agroforestry.
Paulownia is a genus of East Asia; growing naturally in China, Taiwan, Cambodia and Vietnam. It was introduced into Korea and Japan, probably by Buddhist Monks over 1'000 years ago and later in the mid 19th century to North America. Also known as the Chinese Empress Tree, the Paulownia has been prized by the Orient (particularly China) for centuries, yet it remains relatively unknown to the Western World, due primarily to lack of supply. A broad leafed hardwood tree possessing an incredibly rapid growth rate and the ability to self-regenerate, the Paulownia yields marketable timber after 5-8 years. In Japan it is known as Kiri and annual imports exceed 100'000 cubic metres where it is a prized furniture timber traditionally used to make chests of drawers which are given to brides upon marriage. Other uses include musical instruments, carvings, doors, panelling and veneers.
Paulownia clonal technology represents a commercially and environmentally efficient alternative for the survival of world timber supplies and the reclamation of defoliated and degraded land areas. The cloned plants produce a tree capable of growing up to 20 feet in its first year ! Young Paulownia trees have large deciduous leaves which form a mulch that improves, rather than depletes the soil. This can reduce or remove the need for fertiliser and irrigation as the plant matures. The root system is deep and noninvasive in irrigated areas; this operates to lower the water table and reduce the danger of soil salinity.
Paulownia is a fast growing, deeprooted deciduous tree that is ideal for agroforestation. Tree height on maturity is 14-18 metres, with a smooth bark, good trunk extension, and a strong tap root system. The large and nutritious leaves fall in late autumn providing high quality organic material for soil enrichment.
The Paulownia adapts to numerous growing conditions and grows well in a variety of soil types. Problems associated with long term growth cycles are nonfactors where the Paulownia is involved. As for the drawback posed by low timber volumes, the Paulownia has been shown to be capable of producing up to four times the useable timber provided by current conventional lumber sources during a fixed time. In other words, a solution is being introduced to the world timber supply/environmental problem, in the form of a practical, income producing and renewable natural resource - Paulownia, the super natural tree of today and tomorrow.
Paulownia also known as the Chinese Empress tree, the Princess tree, or the Kiri Tree, has been cultivated in China for thousands of years. Paulownia is a broad leaf, deciduous tree, light in weight and colour, yet is strong, dries easily, has beautiful sheen and grain, does not warp, crack or deform easily. Like Bamboo paulownia is a regrowth timber product that has been used for centuries in Japan and China and is now starting to be adapted into Western applications. Poplar is a versatile and cost effect regrowth timber product used for Plywood. Paulownia timber has excellent working characteristics, being easy to plane, saw or carve and is suitable for the manufacture or furniture, plywood, mouldings, doors and many other uses.
According to both legends and records, people in ancient times used Paulownia for various purposes and instruments. It is said that "When King Yui was buried on the hill, Paulownia timber of 3 cuen thick (1 cuen = 3 cm.) was used to make a coffin for him". This shows that even 2,600 years ago, they were using Paulownia timber.
In the work "Zhuang Tze" (400 B.C.) it is recorded "The Phoenix flew from the South Sea to the North Sea without perching on trees other than Paulownia and without eating anything but bamboo fruit". The Chinese people have been planting Paulownia trees for many centuries around their dwellings in order to bring good luck and to attract the phoenix.
Thus, Paulownia has a very long if not the longest history of cultivation in China. In the chapter "Yui Gong" of the book entitled "Shang Shu" (300 B.C.) (the Book of Documents) it is recorded ". . . the people in Shucho supplied the king with Paulownia . . .". This clearly shows that man-made plantations of Paulownia were already there in some areas at that time as centres of cultivation from where Paulownia timber was supplied.
In a book entitled "Mencius" it is also recorded that all the people knew how to cultivate Paulownia, Catalpa ovata and other fine timber trees that were very big in diameter. One was not a good farmer if one did not plant Paulownia and Catalpa. This was during the period of the Warring States (475 - 211 B.C.).
It is thus clear that the Chinese people had already gained considerable experience in the cultivation of Paulownia trees. In the book "On Qin Dynasty" (221 - 207 B.C.) it is recorded "Fu Jian Suei has planted thousands of Paulownia around the Arfang City" indicating the fact that Paulownia was already in cultivation on a very large scale.
Among the many ancient or past records of Paulownia the particular work "A Monograph on Paulownia" written by Chen Chu (982 - 1061 B.C.) in the Northern Song Dynasty (960 - 1127) A.D.) is outstanding for many reasons.
"A Monograph of Paulownia" published in 1049 B.C., recorded the method of cultivation and the utilization of Paulownia timber. The historical data from before the Northern Song Dynasty was collected and sorted out. Many of the conclusions drawn are correct. The details regarding the taxonomy, morphology, seedling growth, afforestation, tending, management, wood properties and uses of Paulownia were discussed in detail and this information is still of great value for cultivation and scientific research on Paulownia.
In the 1960s, the people in Lankau County, Henan Province, summed up the precepts as follows: (a) If there are no forests on sandy land, the land cannot support the people; (b) Some of the adverse effects caused by natural calamities (wind and sand storm, drought and frost) therefore can be minimized by the intercropping of agricultural crops with Paulownia which was actively promoted.
At present, intercropping with Paulownia is being carried out on 1,300,000 hectares of cultivated land in the whole country. Many research institutions, colleges and universities have given priority to research projects on Paulownia. Some prefectures and counties have also established forestry research institutes and experimental stations to conduct research on Paulownia.
They have made observations on the effects of intercropping, propagation, trunk and wood improvement, disease and insect pest control, selection and breeding. They have also carried out experiments on wood properties and utilization. Surveys have also been conducted on the resources and growth of Paulownia.
Since 1983, we have received financial and technical assistance from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). The finances are used for research on Paulownia breeding and intercropping with other agricultural crops. This has played a major role in promoting research on Paulownia in China. We are now willing to share the knowledge and help in the development of Paulownia in other countries, especially in the developing countries of the world.
Paulownia is a marvelous tree species with its characteristics of fast-growing, good wood quality, multiple uses, wide-ranged distribution and easy propagation. It has also a unique biological character, i.e., its root system grows in deep earth and its crown develops in loose structure, which enable it suitable to be intercropped with crops or mixed planting with other shade-enduring trees. So, Paulownia is also a good tree for development of agroforestry. Recently, Paulownia-crop intercropping models have been applied and extended to an area of 15 million hectares in the central plains of North China, and the mixed planting models of Paulownia with other economic plants to an area of 20,000 hectares in the hilly areas of south China. As a result, the total number of Paulownia trees growing in China is as many as 1 billion including the Paulownia trees planted for agroforestry system and other purposes.
Paulownia grows fast biologically, the high-yielding plantation in 10 years old can grow its mean height to 16-20 m, its mean DBH to 35-40cm and its standing volume to 0.5 m3 per tree if the appropriate management is given. In addition, Paulownia wood has many special properties. As one of the lightest woods in China, Paulownia wood has the properties of high resistance to distortion and splitting, high resistance to insect, low coefficient of shrinking, moisture breaking, easy for drying, easy for processing, easy for sculpting, pretty in strains, without smell, and good at acoustics and insulation. Therefore, it is used as the roof purling or beam for building house in rural areas, and also is used for making furniture, window frame, door, furnishing board and handicraft. It is also good raw material for making music instrument. Besides, the Paulownia wood can also be used for industrial purposes, such as for making wooden model, packing board for air transportation, vehicle or ship board and plywood.
The development of Paulownia is supported by the successful research, more than 30 superior clones suitable for different climates were selected and bred, and gave impetus to the development of Paulownia in China along with the progress in Paulownia breeding. Besides, the great progress in cultivation technology, controlling pests and disease and wood processing and utilization has also been made. A series of techniques of nursery have been developed as root cutting, seeding and intercropping cuttage raising, the technique of artificial stem extension has been applied in production of Paulownia. With regards to pests and diseases, although the most effective measure has not been found to control Witches Broom and Giant Bagworm, some research results were applied to control Witches Broom and Giant Bagworm effectively. Recently, the oriented cultivation of Paulownia plantations is being paid attention due to industrial need. Now Chinese government is putting the protection of natural forests into effect, and thus the oriented cultivation plantations will be quickly developed to meet the demand of the economic construction in the coming years. On the other hand, many companies are also engaged in the development of Paulownia and are establishing the plantations for the good quality woods and quick supply of woods.
Besides, the sustainable development of Paulownia, which is being paid attention by researchers and farmers, is beneficial not only to the preservation of natural forests owing to sufficient supply of woods but to economic construction. At present, the long-term plan of Paulownia development is being drawn up to obtain the maximum economic results and ecological benefits. In the traditional cultivation areas the establishment of oriented plantations will be taken seriously to supply raw materials with the construction and wood-based panel on the one hand, and to develop the decorative board, super veneer and music instrument with high additional value on the other hand. While in the new cultivation areas the development of Paulownia is for the purpose of meeting the demand of farmers for woods and making the ecological benefit well. In the hilly areas of south China, the mixed stands of Paulownia with other species and four-sides planting should be encouraged. While Paulownia will be developed for the ecological and economic protection forests in the arid and semi-arid areas of northwest of China.
Existing Market for Paulownia
One of the suppliers to the world market of this genus is the USA. Enquires to the major exports of Paulownia log (primarily to Japan) have revealed the following:
Although Paulownia has been growing on the East Coast for about a century, no significant replacement plantings were made until recent times. This has led to a short fall in supply to the major Asian customers as the value of this timber resource has only been realised by the American growers over the last decade.
Paulownia being a native tree of China and having been under cultivation there for some two thousand five hundred years is also in short supply in its native country and the demand is steadily increasing for this timber resource.
Detailed discussions with lumber merchants in Tennessee who are major exporters of Paulownia logs to the Asian marke have again confirmed that we could expect to attract a price of US$ 2 per board foot of the product between 8 and 10 years old translating to US$ 845.00 per cubic metre and US$ 4 per board foot of the product between 15 and 20 years old translating to US$ 1'690.00 per cubic metre. These figures were also checked against information obtained from Japanese importers for logs of equivalent diameter (in excess of 500mm) and for two grades from the USA C grade at US$ 550 and B grade at US$ 1'100. Sawn timber attracted a higher price by figures were not available from this source for sawn product.
In conclusion it would appear that subject to suitable species selection within this genus, Paulownia should be able to be successfully grown in this country, and make a valuable contribution to diminishing timber resources. It would also appear, that the species within this genus are more environmentally friendly than Pine, which acidify the soil and affect stream ecosystems. Not only this, its fast growth provides short to medium term export opportunities for sawn, and value added product to the world market, which is already suffering from scarcity of mixed tropical hardwood species.