Editor’s note: In the U.S., Paulownia trees are considered to be an invasive species and potentially destructive without an aggressive management plan. They are not currently legal for export. The information in this blog post is to be considered in the context of regions where Paulownia trees are currently grown, such as in the Philippines.
The nine different variations of the Paulownia tree are considered to be an invasive species in many different locations around the world … and not without some good reason. However, the Paulownia tree also offers a host of benefits that should not be overlooked, either in the monocrop timber and lumber industry, or as part of a larger, more expansive and natural ecological system for natural growth and development. If there is to be a means to an end for the highly destructive illegal logging that occurs around the globe, or even a more viable means to maintain the need for lumber, timber and other wood products, a good part of the solution may in fact be the powerful and productive Paulownia tree.
Present Problems of the Paulownia Presence
The Paulownia tree was dubbed locally as “Sa Cahoy ng Buhay” or “The Tree of Life” when it was introduced as a means to establish the reforestation of Region Two in the Quezon Province of the Philippines. Unfortunately, these projects were not properly managed, but merely introduced and the trees were left to their own devices, with devastating consequences. Entire ecosystems were quickly overrun by the prolific growth of the Paulownia Princessa variety. With a growth rate that rivals that of bamboo and an equally prevalent reproductive rate, the Paulownia Princessa and other variations have truly earned their reputation as an invasive species. Proper management of any and all growth is imperative if these trees are to be utilized to their full potential and serve as part of truly sustainable solutions.
Benefits of the Paulownia Tree
The benefits of the Paulownia tree are far too expansive to cover in a meaningful fashion in any single article, and have in fact filled many a tome to overflowing. While there is certainly not room on this page to cover all of the positive aspects in detail, some of the more beneficial characteristics will be briefly introduced. As such, perhaps enough interest will be generated to allow for the introduction of the Paulownia tree into many existing homesteads and private operations, to begin introducing the tree of life to a larger, more receptive audience.
The leaves of the paulownia tree contain high levels of proteins and other nutrients, and while not quite as nutritionally beneficial as the Moringa Oleifera Tree, do provide benefits to livestock. Among the test results are indications that the integration of the paulownia leaves into livestock feeds help to increase both birth weight and even egg production.
The Paulownia trees thrive where other trees die, primarily due to their ability to absorb the excess nitrates from the soil. This makes them an ideal addition in the areas surrounding plots of land that have been effectively destroyed by monocrop farming.
When the Paulownia tree is ultimately cut down, the tree will grow back on the old stump. This means that the root system stays in place, helping to reduce erosion and other concerns with current methods of timber and lumber production.
Full veneer logs can be grown in some environments in as little as eight years. The trees themselves will grow in different variations in virtually any location of the world, though some will have slower growth rates in harsher climates.
The wood from the Paulownia tree is a light blonde wood, but very flexible and malleable when it is fresh cut, though once dried, it becomes as hard as the venerable cherry wood so popular in the furniture industry.
The malleable nature of the wood in conjunction with its hardness when dried or cured, makes the paulownia wood a favorite among many Asian craftsmen for everything from knick knacks to musical instruments to full home construction.
The nine different variants of the Paulownia tree allow it to grow in virtually any environment, from the harshest of tropics including the Rainforests of Brazil to Indonesia and the Philippines where illegal timbering is actively destroying the environment, all the way to the alkali flats of Northern Nevada and Utah where scarcely anything else will grow well. (Growing times and growth rates will vary based on both variety and environment)
An End to Illegal Timber and Lumber
The illegal timber industry, at least in the Philippines, is largely relegated to the destruction of old growth Teak and Mahagony. The reasons of course, are due to the demands of the wood from these amazing trees, but the costs in both terms of economics and environment are unfathomable. The potential for economic gain is obviously sufficient to put people into a position to risk the legal accountability for their harvest, as evidenced by the ongoing destruction taking place literally all around the globe. Therefore, the solution must be driven by a means to introduce a more sustainable and legal alternative that can be adequately managed in a sustainable fashion.
Such a program can be established with the Paulownia trees, but not without some substantial changes in both domestic and international laws around the world.
How to Integrate the Paulownia for Sustainable Development
Current laws probably need to undergo some major changes, at least if the Paulownia tree is going to assist in the end … or at least to greatly reduce the illegal timbering of old-growth forests. Introductions to illegal timber cutters can easily be made, without any need to reveal past or even current operations. This should encourage active participation, especially when economically viable markets for the paulownia wood are introduced at the same time.
Furthermore, international laws such as the Lacey Act must be reformed, most notably to allow for the legal export of the Paulownia trees, even when they are not specifically grown in plantations solely for export markets. There are substantial markets for the wood from the paulownia trees around the world, and the ease with which veneer grade lumber can be grown means that it will be possible for those currently thriving even in the illegal timber industry, to legally and profitably expand their operations and income without any risk of legal penalties. These markets must be expanded and made available to the people currently in the timber industry, legally or not.
The Paulownia trees must never be introduced into foreign ecosystems without a proper management system in place. However, as a properly managed addition to an expansive and environmentally sustainable development, there is very little that can be said about the Paulownia trees that is not favorable in virtually every aspect of the word … and the wood.
As always, please leave any of your thoughts, comments, questions and suggestions in the comment section below so that they can be addressed individually, and perhaps even used for consideration in future articles. None of this work would be possible without you, the reader, and as such, your thoughts and considerations are the most important aspect of any articles published herein.
Ruth Tandaan Sto Domingo, Whole-System Sustainable Development Expert. Ruth has worked with numerous NGOs, governments and Indigenous communities in Guinea, Cameroon, Nigeria, Panama, Costa Rica, Brazil, Australia, the Philippines and Vanuatu to implement sustainable solutions. She is the co-author of Whole System Sustainable Development. Ruth enjoys “hyper-realistic” cross stitch and is working with her husband to build a largely off-grid and self-sufficient home where she will raise livestock and garden both flowers and food. Connect with Ruth on Facebook.
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