Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Miracle Plants

Posted by Robert Cox, Arapahoe County Extension

Miracle Plants
(If they survive and grow in Colorado… it’s a miracle)

About this time of year, many Coloradans yearn for spring and the gardening season.  February magazine and newspaper ads seem to target those with spring fever.  

Various trees, lawn grass mixtures, vegetable seed or plants, or plants that repel pests are often hyped.  Some of these ads are, ummm, pretty fraudulent.  Not at all miraculous, such plants and seed mixes can be a disappointment for well-intentioned homeowners.  

Gardeners should exercise common sense - “let the buyer beware” and “if it
sounds too good to be true....” are phrases worth remembering.

In general, avoid responding to plant advertisements that over-hype.   Avoid responding if the advertiser is a marketing or sales group rather than a mail-order nursery.  Post office box mailing addresses rather than actual site addresses may also be cause for skepticism. 

But let’s backtrack just a moment, OK?

One of these over-hyped plants, a tree called Empresstree or Royal Paulownia (Paulownia tomentosa), can become a fun-for-kids (and adults) plant in your backyard.

A Catalpa relative, Empresstree is hyped as a fast grower (“grows to 68 feet the day after you plant it”).    The problem with it in most of Colorado?   It is marginally cold-hardy.  It tends to die back to the ground after cold dry spells in winter (OK, OK, when does that ever happen in Colorado?).  But new shoots from the roots do grow very fast in spring, resulting in a large-leafed, tropical-looking “Jack and the Beanstalk” plant.

Empresstree- not the tree we hoped for, but kinda fun to have.

This die back to the ground and new growth from roots is repeated annually.
So unless you believe that earth warming will continue (or you live in Grand Junction, where Empresstree might actually grow as a tree), have some fun with this unusual “herbaceous perennial”.  Just prune out the old dead stems and allow the new shoots to remain, growing into your "show all the neighbors" plant.

Empresstree - new growth after dieback

OK, I exaggerated the “68 feet of growth” thing a little.  But trust me, Empresstree is a great landscape tree for Colorado...I know because the ad said “as seen on TV”.


  1. Gulmina.. how does this link provide anything relevant to this post.

    To the Poster.. I would like to share your information on my website..

  2. This is a wonderful site.. We are about to start a small nursery of Paulownia.. I have a non invasive strain as well. We are going to see if a Climate Battery works to create a warmer zone. that allows them to grow bigger. Soon to see.