Paulownia tomentosa (Thunb.) Stued.

Foxglove tree

Family: Paulowniaceae

This handsome tree originating in China was formerly in the Scrophulariaceae (figwort or foxglove) family. There is a huge specimen in Rowallane Garden in County Down which flowers, but is seldom seen as a mature tree as far north as Belfast. When young it is extremely fast growing and is more often grown in gardens as a coppiced shrub for the spectacular leaves which can be as much as 30x40cm. The species name means hairy which applies to the leaves. These are similar to the leaves of the Indian Bean tree, Catalpa bignoniodes although the fruit are quite distinct.

The highly fragrant flowers are produced in bunches in early spring, before the leaves open, from fat hairy buds that can be seen on the branches the previous summer. The flowers are a pale bluish shade and in a favourable climate can cover the tree. The young tree in Belfast Botanic Gardens began to flower in 2018.

Photos taken in Belfast Botanic Gardens and Paris in 2009. Copyright: Friends of Belfast Botanic Gardens.