Long had Firmiana simplex blipped about quietly on my radar until I actually went to China and laid eyes on full-sized specimens. It wasn’t until then the tree made any real impression. So graceful! So different! So apropos of its common name, Chinese parasol tree.
Differences in mind, Asia, it should be said, is a place every Western traveler should visit. So different in so many ways, yet in so many ways still the same, it’s like an alternate universe–and a really cool one at that. Firmiana, I think, jives with that sense of déjà vu. It’s *almost* like some tree you’ve seen at home… But then it’s completely different. I love that about it.
We live in the 2000′s, so of course Firmiana simplex actually made its way here years ago and, unsurprisingly for such a vigorous tree, encountered conditions so favorable it’s become an invasive species in warmer parts of the country like Texas, where I took some these photos.
Since Firmiana likes it hot, Massachusetts isn’t one of those places, but I can’t help but see similarities between the tree and Catalpa (fully hardy, but often coppiced here and kept a shrub) as well as Paulownia (I’ve heard tale of 30-foot growth in one season from the ground up). All are similarly vigorous and fast-growing. Why not try Firmiana as a dieback? If I get my hands on some, I’m gonna.
Firmiana is a member of either the Sterculiaceae family, or maybe just the Malvaceae family, depending on who you ask. (Dear systematists: it is too early in the morning.) Its most notable (Notorious?) relative is none other than cacao, Theobroma cacao, mother of all things chocolate. Of course, if you lump it in somehow with Malvacae, it’s a hop and a skip to our friend cotton. I see a resemblance!