Paulownia, the generic and common name (given in honor of the princess royal Anna Paulovna of the Netherlands, afterward queen) of an ornamental tree introduced from Japan in 1840; in this country it is sometimes corrupted into polony. It belongs to the scrophu-lariacece or figwort family, and is remarkable among plants of that order for attaining the stature of a tree. It grows 20 or 30 ft. high, and has much the habit of a catalpa, and the leaves are similar to those of that tree, but much more downy. The flowers, produced in April or early in May, in large clustered panicles, are somewhat cylindrical with rounded lobes at the mouth; they are 1 1/2 to 2 in. long, violet-colored, with a slight, pleasant fragrance; the segments of the five-cleft calyx are very thick and leathery, and densely covered with a rusty down; the flowers are succeeded by ovate, pointed, two-valved capsules, an inch or more long, containing numerous small winged seeds. When this tree was first introduced into the United States, having been preceded by glowing accounts from abroad, it made a sensation among horticulturists, and was extensively planted; and indeed few trees are more attractive than a well grown specimen crowded with its large clusters of handsome flowers, but it is attended by bo many disqualifications that it is now comparatively neglected.
It is barely hardy north of the city of New York, and even there it often fails to bloom for several seasons in succession; the flower buds are formed the previous season, and are so highly developed that a severe winter is quite sure to destroy them; and the tree, on account of the dull color of its very downy foliage, is not especially ornamental unless it flowers. When it blooms after a favorable winter, it is loaded with pods, which remain until they are beaten off by the winds, often continuing on during the following summer and much disfiguring the tree by their large masses of brown color. In a favorable climate the growth of the young trees from the seed or from cuttings is remarkably rapid and vigorous, and the leaves upon such trees are frequently 2 ft. across, but on old trees they are less than half that size. The better use for the paulownia is to disregard its flowers, and to cut it down to the ground every year; in spring several vigorous shoots will, start from the base, one of which if allowed to remain will grow 15 ft. or more high in the season, with a spread of foliage of truly tropical luxuriance; or if a large clump is desired, several shoots may be allowed to grow; fine garden effects may be produced by this treatment.
It is readily propagated by seeds or from cuttings of the roots.