Princess tree (paulownia tomentosa) is a native plant of western and central China. First introduced to the United States around 1840 as an ornamental plant, it is still sold as such today, as well as being grown in plantations and harvested for export to Japan.
However, the plant is an aggressive invasive that thrives in disturbed areas, and has spread along the East Coast and in some areas of the West. It spreads by both seeds and root. Root sprouts can grow more than 15 feet in a single season.
Like Mugwort, Princess tree has a number of uses. And like mugwort, we are harvesting it from empty lots in order to make paper. Below, Mary sits with our harvest.
Despite small quarters, we managed to spread out the leaves and stems to dry before being made into paper -- see below. On the right is my new beater. It has been suggested to us that Princess tree may need to be de-barked before cooking and processing. As our research progresses, we will have to decide how we plan to process it.
All of our Princess tree was harvested from a large empty lot that sits between Thompson and Master and American and North 2nd Streets -- across from what is now the Crane Arts Building. This lot formerly was the home of a bar and a junkyard that had been labeled a Superfund site. Now a sign proclaims, "Luxury Townhomes Coming Soon!"
Right now the lot sits empty and overgrown. It reminds me how quickly and dramatically Philadelphia can change. Depending on what direction I walk from my home, I encounter public sculpture, empty lots, murals, drug dealers, art galleries, community gardens, graffiti, night clubs, liter, churches, mosques, all within a few blocks. Philadelphia literally changes from block to block, crossing one street can take you into a completely different situation. However, these various worlds can live side by side and never interact.