Collected on this Day in 1937: Princess tree
This specimen of princess tree (Paulownia tomentosa) was collected on January 13, 1937 in Schenley Park, Pittsburgh by R.J. Templeton and J.R. Steck. Though subtle, note the heading on the label “Flora of Cultivation.” This header suggests that this tree was planted in the park, rather than naturally occurring on its own.
Princess tree has a remarkable presence – large wide leaves larger than your face (though you can’t see that in this winter collected specimen) and very showy, fragrant flowers that burst from large buds in the spring. Signs of the flowers/fruits remain obvious on the branches year round.
Princess tree is a common urban weedy tree that is not native to Pennsylvania or the United States. Rather, it is native to Central and Western China. It was brought to Europe in the 1830s (and then to the US) by the Dutch East India Company, with many historical medicinal and ornamental uses, as well as its wood. The tree was named after a Romanov princess, the Grand Duchess Anna Pavlovna.
Princess tree can still be found in Schenley Park. It is especially noticeable, with its flowers at eye level, as you walk or drive across the bridge from the museum to Phipps Conservatory (Schenley bridge).
Listed as invasive by the state, Princess tree should not be planted in Pennsylvania. It grows quickly and actively spreads beyond its planting, into roadsides, streams, and disturbed forests with potential to displace native plants.
Find this specimen and more here: http://midatlanticherbaria.org/portal/collections/list.php?db=all&catnum=CM120710&othercatnum=1
Check back for more! Botanists at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History share digital specimens from the herbarium on dates they were collected. They are in the midst of a three-year project to digitize nearly 190,000 plant specimens collected in the region, making images and other data publicly available online. This effort is part of the Mid-Atlantic Megalopolis Project (mamdigitization.org), a network of thirteen herbaria spanning the densely populated urban corridor from Washington, D.C. to New York City to achieve a greater understanding of our urban areas, including the unique industrial and environmental history of the greater Pittsburgh region. This project is made possible by the National Science Foundation under grant no. 1801022.
Mason Heberling is Assistant Curator of Botany at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Museum employees are encouraged to blog about their unique experiences and knowledge gained from working at the museum.