#21: Royal Empress

Bird number: 44
Date: February 18, 2012
Wood: Royal Empress (Paulowina tomentosa)
Source: Trade from Arizona

The Royal Empress tree is native to central and western China, but grows well in the United States. So well, in fact, that it’s considered an invasive weed in many parts of the country. My friend Mike planted some in his back yard and they grew like crazy. He gave me a sapling and I haven’t been able to keep it alive. Every year something kills it. One year it got to about 3 feet high. I went out one morning and found it broken. But every year it comes back.

It’s been five years. I’m starting to feel like Charlie Brown and the football. This year will be different, I swear!

The piece of wood came from a friend in Arizona, with whom I traded bird blanks. She sent me an assortment of local woods, and I sent her stuff that she can’t get there.

The wood is soft and easy to carve with a knife. Probably about the same as the Eastern Red Cedar. It’s certainly softer than the Mimosa, which I also enjoyed carving. I suspect that if you can carve Butternut, you can carve the Royal Empress.

The wood is pretty, although not as striking as many of the species I’ve worked with. Still, it’ll make a nice addition to the collection.

Carving the Empress wood is an art form in China and Japan. Searching for “paulownia carving” images reveals many beautiful carved objects. I’m surprised it’s not a common carving wood here in the U.S.

Other species of Paulownia are used for furniture, construction, pallets, stringed instruments, surfboards, and in general any job that calls for a strong, light weight wood. Plantation trees grow quickly, sometimes up to 20 feet per year. It’s unlikely that we’ll run out of these trees any time soon.