WeGrow: Success with fast-growing paulownia or “kiri” trees
Making an appointment with Peter Maximilian Diessenbacher in the summer is difficult. Because whenever a truck with fresh saplings is on its way to Spain, he gets on a plane in order to supervise at first hand the transfer of the small kiri plants to the Spanish plantations. Kiri is not a typing error for kiwi, although it is just as exotic. The kiri tree is the fastest-growing cultivated tree in the world. In his office at the headquarters in Tönisvorst, Peter Diessenbacher has three wooden discs from three trees of identical age that prove this. While the beech has a diameter of 6 cm, the Douglas fir at 12 cm is twice as large – whereas the kiri tree is able to reach 40 cm.
The tree is famous in Asia, with the beautiful blossom even adorning Japan's coat of arms. It is there that the kiri tree is also called the "Tree of Happiness". The Viennese Emperor Franz Joseph was very taken by the tree and had it planted everywhere in his vast Austro-Hungarian empire. That is in the past, however, and the kiri tree has since then faded into obscurity in Europe. But this is about to change on a sustainable Basis.
So how does the kiri tree come to be in the greenhouses in Kehn, a small community in the town of Tönisvorst in the District of Viersen? The former perennial nursery is certainly ideally suited to the new purpose. In the first step, the kiri tree varieties, which are protected exclusively throughout Europe, are propagated and grown. Subsequently, the saplings are planted on plantations throughout Germany and, since 2015, on plantations in Northern and Central Spain. By the time of harvesting and felling, the kiri trees will have grown to a size of 12-156 m and a diameter of 40 cm when they are constantly cared for.
The “father” of the kiri trees is graduate agricultural engineer Peter Maximilian Diessenbacher. The 39-year-old studied agriculture in Bonn and is particularly involved with renewable raw materials. Together with his professor, Dr Ralf Pude, he planted the "China reed" for the Euroga at Schloss Dyck in 2002. A gardener at the Botanical Garden in Bonn drew his and his professor's attention to the kiri tree. With just a few seeds, the student bred his first own kiri plants on the windowsill of his bachelor pad. The student flat soon became too small and Diessenbacher privately rented his first greenhouse. After completing his studies, he wrote a business plan together with his fellow student Allin Beatrice Gasparian, who was studying economics in Bonn. In 2009 they founded "WeGrow" together – and the name says it all: they are growing and growing.
In the spring of 2016, the young company moved from Bonn to Tönisvorst. In Kehn, the young entrepreneurs found the right property for their own expansion. It is here that the laboratory, headquarters and greenhouses are located in which the young plants are grown until they can reach maturity outdoors on the plantations. WeGrow cultivates several plantations of 250 hectares nationwide. The kiri trees grow in Kempen-Tönisberg on the Lower Rhine, near Heidelberg and Bonn. There are further large plantations in the Mecklenburg town of Güstrow, whose first timber harvest is already due in four to five years. Last year, WeGrow expanded into Spain. Over 170,000 trees have already been planted there which can be felled in six to seven years due to the warm climate, the safe and consistent water supply and the support and care provided by the Spanish WeGrow team. In total, 350 hectares have been cultivated with kiri trees on behalf of WeGrow. For four investor companies at the moment, WeGrow represents a specialist service provider which plants, cares for and harvests the trees. The investors invest 5,000 euros for around 100 saplings. The investment is set at ten to twelve years. The target with the harvest is to double the capital before tax.
The kiri tree is not only fast-growing, its wood is extremely versatile. It is often celebrated as the “aluminium” of woods. Just as aluminium is only a third of the weight of steel, kiri also weighs only a third of the amount of equally-sized oak. Just four years ago, no carpenter in Germany knew about kiri trees. This year, however, Hülsta-Möbelwerke has introduced kiri wood to a product line. And the neighbouring company of fleur ami in St. Tönis has large vases made of kiri wood in its product range, which impress with their light weight. Further applications will be added, as kiri wood is resistant, shows no cracks and has good insulating properties. Because it is flexible, surfboards and snowboards are made from it. Due to its light weight, it is also used in mobile homes, trains and facade elements. The product promise - Kiri, half the weight, double the insulation - is persuasive. You do not need to be a prophet to realise that WeGrow will keep on growing.
Kehn 20 47918 Tönisvorst, Germany
Telephone +49 (0)2156 48498-0
Fax +49 (0)2156 48498 79
Version dated: September 2017