Right before the flowers of empress tree open, the ends resemble Kermit the Frog’s scrunch face, at least to my overactive imagination. Other common names for this species include royal paulownia and princess tree.
The aristocratic theme in its common names are due to the German botanist Siebold naming the genus in honour of Russia’s Anna Pavlovna. The genus of seven species is native to China, Taiwan, Laos, and Vietnam, with Paulownia tomentosa native primarily to central China. It has been introduced to other parts of the world as an ornamental plant, including Japan, Korea, North America, and Europe.
BPotD readers from the eastern United States and Japan will likely know the species has escaped cultivation in those areas and is sometimes considered invasive / aggressive. The seeds of Paulownia tomentosa were used as packing material for Chinese porcelain, which (if and when the packaging broke) seemingly helped spread empress tree seeds along rail lines throughout the eastern USA.
Horticulturally, empress tree can be kept in a state of fresh growth renewal through hard pruning when dormant (pollarding or coppicing). Doing so results in no flowers during the succeeding growing season. However, the trade-off is that the plants will produce much larger leaves than normal (to 0.6m / 2 ft.), adding a tropical element to the garden.