Meet the Empress


Fastest-growing tree in the world
Non-invasive, non-GMO, naturally occurring
Produces quality lightweight hardwood lumber in 7-10 years
Regrows multiple times after harvest without replanting
Provides a host of local ecosystem services unlike any other tree

The Empress Splendor tree is a member of the Paulownia genus and is regarded as the fastest-growing tree in the world (Guinness Book of World Records). It reaches hardwood maturity within 10 years, and will regrow from the same root system up to 7 more times, making it a truly renewable resource. World Tree’s vision is to help slow the destruction of the world’s primary forests by cultivating fast-growing eco-timber in partnership with farmers and other landowners.

The Empress Splendor trees perform these feats of nature without being genetically modified. They are bred by conventional methods used by farmers for thousands of years. The trees grown by World Tree are non-invasive hybrids of the fortunei and elongata species. They have deep taproot systems that do not compete with other plants around it, making them perfect for intercropping and permaculture growing systems.

Paulownia is a sacred tree of the Orient, long revered for its fast growth, quality wood and uses in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. In Japan, it is the emblem of the prime minister. It was once native to North America before the last ice-age. It is not well known here, although it has been grown ornamentally in gardens for over a hundred years in the US, Canada and Europe. World Tree’s Empress Splendor trees grow best in the parts of the Southeastern USA, and Western Canada, where the primary use is lumber. World Tree is also planting in Costa Rica, Guatemala and Mexico where it is commonly intercropped with plants such as coffee, cacao and corn.

From planting to harvest in 10 years

World Tree is planting Empress Splendor trees with select farmers and landowners in North and Latin America. We have 18 of our own non-invasive varieties and we select the best strain based on the farmer’s location. In North America, we plant in altitudes of less than 2,200 feet with summer temperatures of 70°F (21°C) and above for at least 5-6 months a year. In locations closer to the equator, planting takes place often at higher altitudes.

The trees can grow well in poor soil conditions, including soil degraded from other tree crops such as pine, or in unused cattle grazing areas. The trees typically grow 10-20 feet in the first year and can reach maturity in 10 years.

World Tree works closely with the farmers to ensure maximum growth and health of the trees. Learn more about our farmer program

After 10 years of growth, World Tree harvests the trees and sells the lumber. One of the amazing properties of the tree is that it regrows from the stump very quickly after harvesting and will regrow itself up to 7 times after being cut down. This makes it a sustainable source of lumber for generations to come.


3 months


1 year


10 years

Ecosystem services unsurpassed by any other tree

The variety of ecosystem services provided by the Empress Splendor tree are virtually unsurpassed by any other tree. In a recent report (link the NB report), the species was found to be one of the most efficient trees on the planet for sequestering carbon from the atmosphere and returning it to the soil, making it a highly effective tool in reversing climate change. One acre of trees can absorb up to 90 tons of carbon per year, more than enough to offset the average carbon footprint of 4 people.

The Empress also has unique nitrogen-fixing properties and can naturally return nitrogen to depleted soil via its leaves and root systems. The carbon and nitrogen rich soil can retrain water more efficiently and provide a much more robust and resilient environment for all the plants and trees in the area.

The springtime blossoms of the Empress tree are highly “nectariferous” providing abundant nectar to pollinating insects including honey bees. They therefore have a critical role to play in maintaining healthy agricultural systems, especially when planted with or close to other flowering crops such as coffee.

They do not respond well to chemical products, preferring instead organic farming methods and the use of natural fertilizers such as chicken manure.

The Empress tree is a ‘wet’ wood which makes it naturally fire and insect resistant. It is also rot resistant and hypoallergenic, with a high R value.

Carbon eating machine

One of the most efficient trees on the planet at carbon sequestration.

Helps reverse global warming, absorbing enough CO2 annually to offset a family of 4.

Carbon offset projects under development.


Pollination services

The flowers of the Empress tree are rich in nectar, attracting pollinating insects including honeybees. 

This not only supports the pollinators, but also enhances the health of agricultural systems where the trees are intercropped with flowering plants such as coffee, or planted in their vicinity.  

Regenerates the soil

The Empress is a nitrogen-fixing tree that can convert atmospheric nitrogen through its leaves and convert it to useable soil nutrients. This process greatly enhances the health and productivity of the soil without using synthetic fertilizers.

And the large leaves provide shade and shelter for other plants such as shade grown coffee.


A 35-year-old fir (left) compared to a 5-year-old Empress.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the tree invasive?

The short answer is: No, the Empress Splendor tree is not invasive.

The Empress Splendor tree belongs to the genus Paulownia. There are many different species of Paulownia and only one is classified as invasive, the Paulownia tomentosa (http://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/plants/printree.shtml). We do not use this variety, choosing instead non-invasive species such as the Paulownia fortuneii.

The Rainforest Alliance has chosen Paulownia as an ecologically sound tree for the purposes of reforestation and carbon sequestration (View the Rainforest Alliance Report).

The Rainforest Alliance is internationally recognized as a certification program for sustainable forestry and best practices for tree planting and agroforestry.

Are the trees genetically modified?

No, our trees are not genetically modified (GMO).

GMO refers to an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. These sometimes contain genes from totally unrelated species, such as salmon genes in tomatoes developed to have frost resistance and this raises concerns that as such an organism could not possibly develop naturally. We don’t know the long-term effects.

Our Paulownia trees are bred using conventional methods as used by farmers for thousands of years, i.e. we cross-pollinate different lines of the same genus (Paulownia) and then grow the seedlings out, selecting the best and then propagate only from those best trees to develop new varieties. We do not splice in genes from outside the Paulownia genus.

There is no unrelated genetic material, neither plant or animal, included in the genome of our trees.

Where is it native to?

The earliest fossils of the Empress tree are found in North America, so we know it was native to here at least 40,000 years ago. The tree was wiped out in the ice ages and restricted to small part of China. The Chinese re-introduced the Empress tree to North America 200 years ago.

Are the trees organically grown?

Yes. Empress Splendor trees don’t respond well to chemical products and are best when they are grown organically. For example, they love chicken manure!! The bark of the tree is moist, which most insects don’t like. This means that the tree is naturally insect repellant and fire retardant.

Who plants the trees and where do they grow?

The trees are planted by World Tree certified farmers. These are farmers who already have experience successfully growing Empress trees. Empress trees grow best in places with summer temperatures of 70°F (21°C) and above for at least 5-6 months a year and an altitude lower than 2,200 feet. Our farmers are located in Canada, the United States and select regions of Central America.

Are you promoting monocultures?

No. Many of our farmers use our Empress trees for inter-cropping. For example, most of our farmers in Costa Rica are using the Empress trees to provide shade for their coffee plants.

Empress trees will grow alongside any plant that prefers partial shade and because it has a deep tri-tap root system, it does not compete with the other plants for nutrition.

In fact, the Empress revitalizes the soil by bringing much-needed nutrition from deep in the ground to the soil surface.

Is this really a hardwood tree?

Yes! It is a hardwood tree – it is one of the lightest of the hardwoods with a very high strength-to-weight ratio. The tree is deciduous and loses its leaves in the winter.

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