Appalachia Wildflowers & Trees Of Appalachia

Tipper’s Fairy Tale – The Second Part

 

the emperor tree

I’m finally ready to share rest of my fairy tale with you. If you missed the first post about my own secret fairy tale-click here to read it first and then hit the back button to continue reading here.

 

the princess tree

My fairy tale has grown even larger since I first told you about it and now casts a large shadow over my kitchen window. Ten feet of growth in one summer is amazing and spooky all at the same time. Jack’s beanstalk immediately comes to mind, but this fairy tale comes from a far and distant land: China.

Paulownia tomentosa is the scientific name of the species with the more common names being Princess Tree or Empress Tree. Even though the tree is not native to any portion of North America, it can be found from Canada to Florida and way out west in Washington and California too.

Once the tree matures it has purple drooping blooms which are then replaced by large seed capsules that are noticeable from a far distance.

Before the tree matures it has amazing green leaves that can grow to be as large as three feet wide. After maturity the leaves are smaller and more uniform in nature. The tree can reach heights of between 65 and 125 feet-hence the reason it can’t stay hugged up to my kitchen window.

Unfortunately Paulownia tomentosa is invasive in some areas and interferes with the native vegetation. If you’ve ever ridden through the Nantahala Gorge you can see the trees seem to thrive a little to well in that environment.

 

Paulownia tomentosa the princess tree in appalachia

Just down the road from my house, where Pap lived when he was a boy, there is a lone Princess Tree standing tall in the pasture. There have been a few others here and there around our holler, but I’m not aware of any that have reached maturity.

There used to be one that grew to be about 20 feet tall near my uncle’s house-right on the side of the road so you noticed it as you came or went. I paid special attention to the tree when cold weather arrived in the fall of the year. After the first heavy frost every leaf on the entire tree would fall off. The leaves would just be laying around the bottom of the trunk like giant curled pieces of paper.

Pap’s Uncle Blaine brought the tree in the photo above out here with him back in the day.

 

Blaine Wilson 1911-1959

Blaine Wilson 1911-1959

What I mean when I say out here is that he brought it from the Asheville area to Brasstown. Our family has made their own sort of migration between Brasstown and the Asheville/Canton area over the years. One generation will decide to go back to one place or the other and another will decide to stay where they are at, but it’s always seemed like Pap’s family was connected to both areas.

Blaine lived from 1911 till 1959 so I never knew him, but Pap had fond memories of Blaine. Pap said he loved to fish and hunt and was even President of a Wildlife Association at one time. Blaine found the fishing especially nice out this way.

Pap said Blaine brought what he thought were Catawba trees to plant around the old home place. Catawba trees are well liked by fishermen because they attract what is commonly known as a catawba worms. Actually they’re caterpillars, but either way fish seem to like them.

Blaine thought if the trees grew he’d have instant fish bait when he came out to visit and fish. He unknowingly had Princesses Trees and the only one that survived to maturity is the one in the pasture.

empress tree

 

After my fairy tale started growing under my kitchen window I started asking questions about the tree and Pap told me the story of Blaine and his hopes of ready fish bait. I never thought of asking around to see if any of my family had a photo of Blaine until Pap told me the story. Sure enough someone had a picture and they were kind enough to send it to me. I couldn’t wait to see Blaine’s face-you know to see if he looked like any of us.

In a very serendipitous manner I was sent the picture of Blaine holding the fish, even though the person who sent it had no clue why I wanted a photo of Blaine or anything about Pap’s story of Blaine and the fish bait trees.

So why do I think the Princess Tree growing under my kitchen window is a fairy tale? Because in the 17 years we’ve lived in this house not one Princess Tree has come to grow around our place. The tree is magical because it grew over 10 feet in one summer and has 3 foot wide leaves.

Mostly I think it’s a fairy tale because my Great Uncle Blaine, a man I never knew, brought the parent of my Princess Tree to my mountain holler all those years ago. It’s like Blaine settled down by the house to wait and then when I was ready he knocked on the kitchen window and told me to come find out who he was.

My fairy tale came full circle once I was sent the photo of Blaine holding a fish and now I’m sure Uncle Blaine won’t mind a bit when I let The Deer Hunter cut the tree down.

——————-

It’s been 5 years since I first shared my fairy tale with you and in that time not one Princess Tree has decided to take up residence around my house.

Tipper

 

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18 Comments

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 9, 2017 at 9:50 pm

    Blaine Elmer Wilson was an electrician. Not the ones who climbed the poles or wired the houses but the one who fixed the things that now we throw away when it quits. Toasters, ranges, radios, TVs and even coffee pots. When they stopped working he fixed them. Every little town had at least one, bigger towns had more. That was before it got more expensive to fix something than to replace it. I don’t know that I call that progress. Uncle Blaine checked out in 1959 when the decline of the electrical repair business hadn’t even begun in earnest. Did you know his daughter Linda Mae? She died in 2014.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    June 9, 2017 at 4:30 pm

    Tipper–Since Ken raised the subject, I’ll suggest that the fish shown in the faded photo is almost certainly a muskie. They are native to larger rivers in the area that are part of the Mississippi River drainage and are found in the French Broad, Tuckaseigee, Little Tennessee, and other regional streams. They are hard as the dickens to catch and are often described as “the fish of 10,000 casts.” He had every reason to display this prize, and they were ever rarer now than they are today.
    My Grandpa Joe had a wonderful tale about catching one on a trot line and how it about tore the boat (and him) up when he unhooked it. He called them jack fish, as did other old timers.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    June 9, 2017 at 3:22 pm

    Enjoyed your fairy tale.
    Several years ago I met a man over in W.Va who was buying those trees and shipping them to China.

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    June 9, 2017 at 3:22 pm

    Enjoyed your fairy tale.
    Several years ago I met a man over in W.Va who was buying those trees and shipping them to China.

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    June 9, 2017 at 3:22 pm

    Enjoyed your fairy tale.
    Several years ago I met a man over in W.Va who was buying those trees and shipping them to China.

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    June 9, 2017 at 3:22 pm

    Enjoyed your fairy tale.
    Several years ago I met a man over in W.Va who was buying those trees and shipping them to China.

  • Reply
    Maggie Roberts
    June 9, 2017 at 2:03 pm

    I had always heard it was the “Catalpa” tree that was fishbait tree.
    I’ve thought about getting some Princess tree seedlings, but was concerned about the invasive aspect. I’ll have to check with our conservation dept I guess.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 9, 2017 at 1:16 pm

    Now you got me to wondering how the Paulownia would be for whittling. They say it is very light but strong and straight grained. One web site called it “the other Balsa.” I might have to call Spot & Steal to see if they can get me some. You do know who Spot & Steal are, don’t you?

  • Reply
    Ken
    June 9, 2017 at 1:04 pm

    Tipper,
    Blaine lived a somewhat short life to be only 48 years old. I bet he was a good fisherman cause the fish he is holding, a male trout or Pike probably, is several inches long. I use to live in South Asheville, (Skyland), but I came out to the Nantahala River to do my Trout Fishing.
    There use to be fish in the French Broad (can’t think of their names), but they got long like that one Blaine is holding. …Ken

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    June 9, 2017 at 12:33 pm

    Tipper,
    I’ve been wanting one of those huge Spring/Summer leaves to make me one of those water baths or bird feeders. One could use it for planting succulents in or mountain hen and chickens too. I am sure you have seen them. Pile sand, place leaf over piled sand. Mix and pour and smooth over leaf your concrete mix…let dry and peel off…All the impressions of the of the veins in the leaf and edges of leaf and stem are left…Trim a bit and there you are…My instructions are short…get online and look up the longer version with the details….In other words a big concrete leaf shape…
    Seems like the time always gets away before I can find the right size leaves….
    I love your story…It was mountain magic…Everything works together for good…even the little critters or fowl of the air that left your magic seed helped toward the end product….
    Thanks again for this story, I am sure all those new folks as well as us that remembered the tale enjoyed it…
    Great post, Tipper!

  • Reply
    SuzyJ
    June 9, 2017 at 12:24 pm

    Gosh, I’ve seen this plant often but never knew it grew into a tree! I’ve seen the pods too, but I don’t remember looking up to see where they came from… Thanks for always educating me on fascinating things 🙂

  • Reply
    TimMc
    June 9, 2017 at 12:17 pm

    Tree? Wow, look at the size of that fish
    ; )

  • Reply
    Tamela
    June 9, 2017 at 12:06 pm

    I’m with Melissa – seems you could keep the fairy tale alive by moving it. As big as it is wonder if it is the kind you can cut off 3/4 the leaves and trim back the roots and still have it survive . . .
    Are these trees sometimes called Sapphire Dragon? I saw one once – thought it was gorgeous – your fairy tale tree sounds much the same

  • Reply
    Ken
    June 9, 2017 at 11:17 am

    Tipper,
    I was wrong thinking it was Kudsu. I’m not sure if I ever saw leaves that looked like elephant ears. There’s things up my branch that have awfully large leaves and my oldest daughter has a degree in Botany. She knows stuff I don’t know, makes me almost mad, till I showed her a piece of old timey Walnut a friend gave me. It is at least 120 years old. Nice story…Ken

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    June 9, 2017 at 10:29 am

    The “Princess Tree” is an invasive import like Kudzu and Japanese knotweed, once they get started they are impossible to get rid of. We had a “Princess Tree” come up near the house several years ago, it almost burst the foundation in one growing season. Now the show up all around our property and I cut them down as quickly as possible. We have now been invaded by “Japanese knotweed” which is almost as fast growing as and as hard to get rid of as “Kudzu”.

  • Reply
    Melissa P (Misplaced Southerner)
    June 9, 2017 at 9:01 am

    It seems a shame that it has to be cut down. Isn’t there any way to dig it up and give it a new home somewhere? I guess I’m just a pushover, softy when it comes to things coming up in unlikely places still giving it their all to survive. Probably why I give away over a hundred rose-of-sharon seedlings every year.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    June 9, 2017 at 8:52 am

    How appropriate since you have two princesses.
    Princess tree wood is highly prized in parts of Asia and as a result commands premium prices in its niche market. I have a friend who planted paulonia for that reason.
    You do bring up the mystery of how seeds get moved around, why they wait for years and then just pop up in unexpected places. I move compost dirt up from the old dog lot in making up my planting hills and I get some interesting developments. This year it is a pie pumpkin which I really do not have the room for and I should have taken out awhile back. In my fencerows the birds bring water oak, hackberry, privet, black cherry and cedar. The squirrels bury hickory nuts. And so on……

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    June 9, 2017 at 7:20 am

    I saw that tree, I’ve never seen such big leaves it’s easy to see it as the center of a fairy tale. Wonder how it came to grow right there under your kitchen window?
    I think it’s Blaine checking on you and saying “Hi, Tip!”

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