The Foxglove Tree
The Foxglove Tree when in full bloom is a breathtaking sight to behold!
It’s aptly named since up close the flowers do resemble common foxgloves [Digitalis purpurea]. But of course this is a tree and not a perennial or even a biennial plant.
The foxglove tree is perhaps well known to gardeners by its Latin name Paulownia.
Incidentally, I think that this is the first blog that I’ve written about a single tree but I was so taken by this tree I just had to share it with you!
An inspired choice
There’s a tree planted right in the middle of a busy roundabout in my local town of Yeovil in South Somerset, England. Now this tree might have been a birch, a London plane tree or even a Norway maple but instead it is the most sensational looking flowering tree at the moment.
It’s uncommon to come across such an inspired tree selection and the foxglove tree is just that!
There’s nothing else planted on this roundabout and the foxglove tree dominates this space. With no other competition the foxglove tree has been allowed to develop it’s natural shape and branches almost sweep down to touch the ground around it.
This particular roundabout is sponsored by a local company Ablebox and they are cardboard box manufacturers. As a consequence the foxglove tree appears to be planted in one of their boxes! It’s a striking form of advertising but for me it detracts from the beauty of this magnificent tree. And the less that’s said about the artificial plastic grass that edges this roundabout the better. Fortunately, people are becoming aware of the negative ecological impact that this product is now having.
Growing the Foxglove Tree
This tree was introduced to the West from China at the end of the 19th century.
Paulownia is not fully at home here in the UK. But as our climate changes it may find that our weather suits it better.
I well remember the frustration of growing around a hundred of these every year! I’d see them grow rapidly during summer only to be frosted back during the winter. So with the protection of polytunnels and growing them in pots I would see 2 metres of new growth. This was reduced back to just 50 cms of live trunk at bud break the next spring! After a while this three steps forward and two back sequence disappeared as growth became less vigorous and less ‘soft’.
Those lilac coloured flowers
In May this tree is expected to be in flower but in this year  it is in full bloom in the third week of April.
Erect panicles of foxglove shaped flowers covered this mature tree. They are lilac in colour and supposed to be heliotrope scented. I couldn’t detect a scent on this occasion but the air was still quite cold and all I could smell was the exhaust fumes from the traffic circulating around me.
Please note that if you wish to see this tree up close it is wise to visit at a quiet time of the day!
Do also note that if you have a young tree you will have to wait several years before it begins to bloom like this one.
I’m not entirely sure which species this Paulownia tree is but suspect that it is P. tomentosa. It might be P. fargesii which I read could be better suited to our British climate.
You might come across Paulownia in gardens looking very different!
This is one of those great plants that can be ‘stooled’ every winter so that new vigorous growth has extra large leaves!
The new leaves are soft and hairy but can be over 45 cms in diameter. You tend to see them planted among exotic looking lush planting. Here they make great contrast with banana leaves, Dahlia blooms, Canna, etc.
Other trees with dramatic blooms
Horse chestnut, Magnolia and Catalpa all have dramatic eye catching blooms but when you see the foxglove tree in all its glory I think that you will agree that it is a truly breathtaking sight!