Empress tree is a large self-seeding weed tree in Zone 7 and warmer; in Zone 5, a nonflowering die-back shrub. Here in warm Zone 6, the quirks of each Winter move the tree's performance from spot to spot on that spectrum.
My penchant for pollarding adds still more suspense. At the minimum, it's three years from pollarding to flowering: pollarding the first Spring, forming buds the second Fall, flowering the third Spring and then pollarding again. Alas, the ultra-eager new wood that pollarding encourages seems to be less hardy than free-range growth and so, therefore, are the buds it forms.
See the bare branches poking up through new shoots from lower down? One deep cold snap killed those branches, resetting the cycle for flowers back to the start.
In this location, in this climate, a pollarded empress tree teaches patience as well as humility—and a commitment to many years of healthy living. How often will the multi-year cycle of pollarding to flowering coincide with a stretch of mild-enough Winters? Once a decade?
Read more: Today in the Garden of a Lifetime: Empress Tree Rebounding