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Introducing the Paulownia to America

July 17, 2018, 1:37 p.m.

The Paulownia (Paulownia tomentosa), also called the Empress or Princess tree, is a large deciduous fast-growing tree. With age, its trunk often grows irregular and sometimes becomes hollow inside. The tree has large heart-shaped leaves and is noted for its fragrant, tubular, funnel-shaped, lavender flowers. The Paulownia is native to China and was cultivated in Japan and Korea before being exported to Europe and elsewhere in the nineteenth century. In America, the Paulownia quickly became a popular garden and street tree and its rise to fame has a rich and well documented history.

In The Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Affairs of 1846, Andrew Downing, the father of American landscaped gardening, introduced the Paulownia as a new ornamental tree to his readership. The article is an expanded version, but now with illustrations, of a description of the tree published two year earlier in Downing’s second edition of A treatise on the theory and practice of landscape gardening, adapted to North America. Also in 1846, a popular monthly nursery magazine The Cultivator advertised the sale of 500 Paulownia trees, 6 to 15 feet high at $1,00 apiece suggesting the tree had already been cultivated in America for several years and was in high demand.

Andrew Downing got much of his knowledge about the Paulownia from the German physician Franz von Siebold who included a detailed description of the tree in his Flora Japonica, a popular 19th century beautifully illustrated reference book on exotic plants. Von Siebold, at the request of the Dutch East Indian Company, had traveled extensively in Asia, gathered information about local plants, and must have directly observed the Paulownia while staying in Japan. He named the tree after Anna Pavlovna, queen consort of William II of The Netherlands and daughter of Tsaar Paul I of Russia, and dedicated the Flora Japonica to the princess as well.

For the illustrations of the Paulownia used in his 1846 article, Downing specifically mentioned von Siebold’s as his source. However, Downing’s illustration of a branch with flowers and seeds differs slightly from von Siebold’s version and seems to have been copied from illustrations in contemporary French botanical magazines and printed in reverse. The picture of the tree seems too generic for a direct provenance.

Von Siebold was not the first to provide the West with an illustration of the Paulownia. That distinction goes to Englebert Kaempfer, who traveled to Japan for the Dutch East Indian Company about a century earlier and carefully illustrated the leaf, flower, and fruit of the Paulownia in his Amoenitatum Exoticum of 1712. Kaempfer also is famous for bringing the first seeds of the Ginkgo tree back to Europe and reportedly planting these in the Hortus Botanicus in Utrecht.

Planting Paulownia seeds in Europe is not documented until 1834 or 1836 when M. Neumann, a horticulturist at Les Jardin des Plantes in Paris received seeds from the Count of Cussy who during his travels to England had acquired several small porcelain vases that contained Paulownia seeds from a member of the British East Indian Company called Kiernon or Kiernan. Because the British East Indian Company primary traded with India and China, the seeds probably originated from China, and not Japan. Some seeds successfully germinated, and the young plants were cared for in a greenhouse in the Jardin des Plants. After three years, noticing that the plants were not thriving, Neumann moved them outside where they started to do much better, and eight years after the seeds were planted a Paulownia finally bloomed for the first time.

As mentioned before, the Paulownia is a fast-growing tree and propagation turned out to be easy. Cuttings of young shoots according to Neumann were planted in a shady place under glass and readily struck root. Also pieces of the root of the Paulownia were placed under an inch and a half of soil in a hot house and generated new plants in about two weeks. And of course, the parent tree in the Jardin des Plants by 1842 was producing seeds in large quantities as well.

Not all Paulownia trees cultivated in Europe in the 1840ties were descendants of the Jardin des Plantes’ seeds. In 1841, Carl Ludwig Blume, a colleague of Franz von Siebold kept Paulownia plants originating from Japan alive on ships destined for Europe. After arrival, these plants were then cultivated and propagated in botanical gardens in the Netherlands and elsewhere. Others must have imported plants and seeds as well. By 1844, three different variants of the Paulownia originating both from China and Japan were described, all probably contributing to the rapid spread and increasing popularity of the tree.

Downing did not included the Paulownia in his 1841 edition of A treatise on the theory and practice of landscape gardening, adapted to North America but then added a description of the tree to his 1844 edition suggesting increased interest in the tree as well as the availability of Paulownia plants in America. This seems also supported by Downing reporting in 1846 that descendants of the Jardin des Plantes’ Paulownia were first offered for sale in Europe in 1843 and that as far as he knew no Paulownia plant had flowered yet in America, but he expected some would probably do so in the next year (1847).

It is tempting to speculate that the Paulownia tree next to the parking lot in Marquand Park is a direct descendant of the Jardin des Plantes tree or one of the other early imports into Europe. In the decade of 1840-1850, Richard Field was actively expanding his collection of trees, showed great interest in the cultivation of new and exotic plants, was familiar with the writings of Andrew Downing and was a contributor to his journal. Acquiring one of the early available plants would have been relatively easy for him.

The Marquand Park Paulownia tree is recorded in a 1917 list in the same location and again appears on a map of trees in the park in 1959. If the tree was planted around 1845 it would now be about 180 years old and probably one of the oldest Paulownia trees on record – a little too old for a Pauwlonia tree. Given the way Paulownias propagate, the current tree more likely is an offshoot of an earlier planted tree, possibly growing in the same location. Looking at its complicated root structure, it is easy to imagine that it harbors several generations of Paulownias.

A.J Downing, “Two New Ornamental trees” in The Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste, Vol 1: pp. 16-17, July 1846.

Tree Canopy and Its Environmental Benefits

July 17, 2018, 1:35 p.m.

I-Tree Canopy is efficient and free software for calculating estimates of tree coverage and its environmental benefits in a predefined area based on Google Earth aerial photography. Using imagery of historical maps, I-tree Canopy also can study changes in canopy over time. The land cover data from I-Tree Canopy can be used by I-Tree Hydro to analyze the effects of trees on hourly stream flows and water quality.

A nice feature of I-tree Canopy is that everyone can learn to use it. The program asks the user 1) to delineate a geographical area, 2) to provide other types of land coverage categories besides trees (building, impervious, grass, etc.), and 3) to determine for each random dot the program creates in the delineated area on the map whether this dot is a tree or something else. The percentage of tree canopy is then determined by the number of dots classified as a tree. The more dots the user includes in the project, the greater the accuracy of the estimated tree canopy coverage.

I-tree Canopy is mostly used for geographical areas such as townships, cities, and counties. However, we chose Marquand Park to demonstrate its use. Based on just 200 data points, the results indicated that 51% of the park was covered by tree canopy (red dots), and 33% covered with grass (blue dots). The estimated environmental benefit of the tree canopy were relatively modest but the park is only a small 17-acre area.

Why Dead Trees Matter

July 1, 2018, 1:39 p.m.

Why Dead Trees Matter

Contribution by Lilly Krauss

When you venture in the wooded area of Marquand park, you may notice fallen trees and large branches on the ground. In this area of the park called natural woods, trees grow, mature, reproduce, die, and decompose without human intervention. Because dead trees are left undisturbed, natural woods have a healthier and more diverse ecosystem than wooded areas where fallen trees are routinely cleared.

When a fallen tree begins to rot on the ground, fungi and other microorganisms that live on dead wood break down the tree’s cell wall, thereby releasing carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and other essential nutrients to the soil. This decomposition produces rich organic matter for other trees to use.

Even standing dead trees, called snags, play an important role in the forest by supplying food and microhabitats. You may find snags stripped of their bark because in particular, deer and other small animals like to eat the bark. Woodpeckers bore deep holes in snags to get at insects or larvae within. These holes become nesting sites for woodland birds. Rotting tree bases provide homes for small mammals. Finally, birds of prey use standing dead trees as lookouts.

To read more about the importance of natural woods:

  1. Dead Wood by Dan Puplett.
  2. Science News for Students, recycling the dead, by Kathiann Kowalski
  3. The Biological Carbon Cycle, by Professor Patricia Shapley, University of Illinois, 2010
  4. Science findings, PNW Pacific Northwest Research Station, Vol. 20, November 1999
  5. Whether fallen or standing, trees have many uses, by Karen Maserjian Shan, February 28, 2015

Japanese Knotweed

May 27, 2018, 1:40 p.m.

The recent discovery of Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) around the parking lot of Marquand Park demands some attention. The perennial has a bamboo-like reddish stem, heart-shaped bright green leaves, and when blooming pretty little white-flower tassels. Introduced in Europe at the beginning of the 19th century, Japanese knotweed became popular as a garden plant because of its soft and pleasing effect. In the United States, Frederic Law Olmsted was responsible for planting it in Central Park.

Over time, the plant has become the most pernicious weed in Great Britain posing a threat to building structures and road surfaces. In the United States, Japanese knotweed is considered an invasive in 38 states and occurs on the New Jersey Invasive Plant Species List. The weed likes to grow along roads and in areas disturbed by human activity. It spreads like wildfire. Eradicating a cluster of plants is not easy. A home improvement website called the Spruce describes techniques such as using tarp to smother the weed; cutting and digging up the plant and its root system; and spraying and injecting knotweed with herbicides. In the United Kingdom, scientists are experimenting with the release of a plant eating insect called Aphalara itadori that feeds on the Japanese knotweed and kills the plant.

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