Back to our Roots – How Empress Trees get started
It’s September and already the farmer team at World Tree are talking about next year’s trees. We plan nearly a year in advance of the planting season so that trees have time to grow to the right size and number.
Empress Trees begin life in one of two ways. This year, the majority of our trees began as ‘bare roots’ at a nursery in Australia where they grew for 9 months before being shipped to the farmers. The roots look like ginseng and these fibrous storage systems are where the tree stores all the starch reserves it will need to grow. Bare roots are a convenient way to ship large numbers of trees.
The other method is to grow the trees from tissue cultures into small seedlings or ‘startlings’ as we like to call them. They look similar to the kind of plants you would buy from a nursery for your garden. The trees are grown to a size big enough to survive transport and are shipped on palettes to farmers. This year we did a small order of trees from a propagation facility in Kelowna to test-drive growing the trees using this method for our farmers that are in Canada and the North East United States.
Selection of Species
The genus name for the Empress trees is Paulownia and there are twenty or more species of Paulownia. World Tree is always looking for the best varieties for timber production, the highest performers overall and also the ones that are best suited for the environment they will be grown in. We never use the Paulownia tomentosa as that is listed as an invasive species.
This year we planted a fortunei pure strain in the hotter areas (like Costa Rica and Texas) and a hybrid variety for the milder and cooler zones (like Canada and Oregon).
The trees are asexually propagated which means there is no exchange of genetic material and the baby trees are identical to the parent. We use collections of mother stock so that there is genetic variety within the plantations. The baby trees are sterile to prevent unwanted reproduction of the trees after they have been planted. The trees we use will not invade the local environment and play nicely with other trees and plants.
Getting ready for our 2018 planting
We recently acquired 20 different varieties of Empress tree that we will use for our 2018 planting. These trees include timber varieties with proven field performance as well as some plants suited to temperate and cooler zones. Kamlesh (pictured above) will have his hands full over the next few months breeding out the little trees.