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Monday, Dec. 9, 2013
The Royal PaulowniaPosted Wednesday, April 4, 2012, at 4:00 PM
Photo by Steven Foster For photo prints, go to www.stevenfoster.com/prints.html
When still naked from leaves, it produces candelabra-like displays of large, thimble-shaped, purple flowers; and then when the large, more or less heart-shaped leaves come-on, they are the largest leaves on a deciduous tree in town (especially younger trees).
Paulownia is native to East Asia, introduced into European horticulture in 1844 and arriving in the United States by 1847.
In China, the earliest mention of the tree comes in a classic text, the Erh-ya, attributed to unknown authors of the Chou Dynasty (1122-255 BC). The Erh-ya is the first text that transforms oral natural history from prehistoric times to the written word. It mentions use of "glorious paulownia wood" among a list of useful woody plants.
Chinese legend holds that it is the only tree on which the phoenix bird perches. It is a good omen, as the phoenix only appears when a benevolent ruler leads the people. From Confucianism, the highest attainment of an educated person is to become a junzi (chun-tzu), or "man-at-his-best," a respectful and respected, perfected human being, a person of complete virtue. Paulownia is an emblem of the junzi.
In ancient Chinese tradition, intelligentsia met in a garden under paulownias to drink to good health and compose magnanimous poems for one another.
When living, the tree's wood is soft and brittle. It will not resist the axe. However, once dried it does not crack, or decay if soaked, hence it symbolizes both tenderness of heart and stability of character.
At ancient Chinese temples, hollowed paulownia tree trunk segments are carved into the form of a fish. The Chinese character and sound for "fish" is the same as for the word "abundance." Fish figures as objects, therefore, represent good wishes for abundant life and boundless blessings.
In temple yards, a hollowed fish carved from paulownia wood is hung. Hit with a hard stick, it strikes a deep resonance; the morning call to prayer.
Guess I'll get me a little piece of paulownia wood, carve it into a fish, and keep it in my pocket when I go shopping for my ticket to abundance once the MegaMillion jackpot tops a few hundred million bucks again.
Steven Foster is a world renowned botanical photographer. He has published many books, including 2 for National Geographic
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