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Thursday - July 12, 2007

From: edgefield, SC
Region: Southeast
Topic: Invasive Plants
Title: Fast growing, possibly invasive trees for South Carolina
Answered by: Joe Marcus


What fast growing trees would you suggest for South Carolina? We are heavy clay and the pecan trees we planted don't see to be too happy here. We are looking at the yellow poplar and the empress tree. We have read conflicting information that the empress tree is poisonous. Is this correct?


We rarely talk to anyone who, a few years after planting a "fast-growing tree," were glad that they did. Fast-growing trees usually have one redeeming value, they quickly produce shade. The negative consequences are often many and quite unpleasant. Among the problems that many fast-growing trees exhibit are weak trunks, weak limbs, abundant leaf-, fruit- and twig-litter, invasive roots, insect and disease susceptibility, and so on. Not every fast-growing tree will afflict every homeowner with all of these problems, but most will exhibit at least some of them.

There is fast-growing and then there is REALLY fast-growing.

Liriodendron tulipifera (tuliptree) or yellow poplar is actually not a bad choice for you and it is a relatively fast-growing tree. You should be warned though that yellow poplar will become a very large tree. Limbs blown from a mature tuliptree in a storm can do a lot of damage to a home or automobile.

Paulownia tomentosa (empress tree) on the other hand, is often a spectacularly fast-growing tree. It bears lovely, sweetly fragrant flowers in the spring and its wood is quite valuable as lumber. Unfortunately, its bad habits are really bad and are almost too many to list. While it makes a handsome tree when young, empress tree -- also know as princess tree -- ages quickly and not at all gracefully. Its wood is very brittle and folks who have them in their landscapes are endlessly cleaning up fallen limbs. Moreover, its falling leaves, flowers, twigs and seed pods all create abundant litter. While it's flowers are beautiful, hard winters often freeze and kill the developing, young flower buds, leaving the tree no choice but to grow faster and drop more limbs. If stuff falling from the sky isn't bad enough, empress tree is prone to producing large exposed surface roots. Of particular interest to you, Paulownia tomentosa is not very happy in clay and much prefers well-drained soil. Finally, and we thnk most important, it is an aggressive and invasive weed in many areas that we believe will one day become yet another ecological nightmare. We have also read that parts of this Asian species are poisonous, but we have no further information on that. Empress tree is the very definition of a problem tree and as royalty goes, it is a royal pain.

Some other trees that might work well for you are Acer rubrum (red maple), and Fraxinus americana (white ash). There are horticultural selections of each of these species (the ones you will typically find in nurseries) that offer superior habit and fall foliage color.



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