The Princess Tree at UD

Adam Scherr describes the Princess tree found at the university and makes the case against planting invasive plants.

Royal paulownia, Paulownia tomentosa
Courtesy of Creative Commons
Traditionally found in China, the royal paulownia known as the Princess Tree is planted in various places throughout the United States including around the university.

The university prides itself in its gorgeous, green campus. Walking along the South Green, one can find towering elms and oaks providing shade for students picnicking, studying and relaxing. While strolling along the university’s characteristic laid brick sidewalks, the curious observer can easily find eastern redbuds, yellow poplars, red maples and other native trees, adding color and life to the walkways.

However, when passing by Morris Library, the hub for reading, silent studying and, most importantly, printing, one may notice a stranger lining the sidewalk. Its broad, outstretched leaves make it seem out of place among the maples and oaks, like a tropical bird hiding in a flock of gulls. The tree’s smooth, striped, greenish bark is similarly alien to the hardwood forests of Delaware. Known as the Princess Tree, or royal paulownia, this tree is an actual alien to Delaware.

Traditionally found in China, Paulownia tomentosa is planted throughout the United States as an ornamental tree. Its massive leaves and large purple flowers make it an appealing tree for homeowners and commercial landscape architects alike. Despite its warm and inviting features, the Princess Tree is not a friendly member of our American ecosystem. After pollinating and fruiting, the tree will release its light, papery seeds into the air to be carried by wind and water to new locations.

It is not uncommon for the seeds to travel two miles from their parent before settling in a patch of soil. Once in the ground, the seed can germinate within weeks of being released. The seeds will grow in most environments on the eastern and southern states, as long as there is ample sunlight. They also grow relatively quickly (two to seven feet per year), have the capacity to reproduce at a young age (less than 10 years old) and develop incredible amounts of seeds.

These invasive species easily establish themselves in areas destroyed by fire or human disturbance, and they spread rapidly. My concern as a student at the university and a conservation-minded citizen is that the Princess Trees planted near the library and other locations around campus will spread into the surrounding wildlife. Since these trees are known for taking hold in areas with little ground cover and shade, the Star Campus construction site is especially vulnerable to Princess Tree invasion. By introducing themselves into new environments, Princess Trees reduce the biodiversity of a region. Instead of seeing native oaks, maples and birches, the visitors of Star Campus may find only broad-leafed, smooth-barked aliens.

Because of the dangers these trees have already posed for the Delaware ecosystem, I believe that the university should ensure that no more of these trees, nor any other invasive plants, are planted in its soil. Perhaps in the future, the developers and landscape architects will be more aware of these detrimental species.

If you would like to become more active in preventing the spread of invasive species, do your research before planting anything in your yard or by your home. Visit a native plant nursery or consult someone who works at a nursery to learn which plants are native and which are nonnative. Many non-native species offer tempting traits for any homeowner, but the environmental impacts do not justify the purchase.

Adam Scherr is a freshman Insect Ecology and Conservation major who also plays tuba in the UD Fightin’ Blue Hen Marching Band. He can be reached at


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