We have developed a reproducible system for efficient direct somatic embryogenesis from leaf and internodal explants of Paulownia elongata. The somatic embryos obtained were subsequently encapsulated as single embryos to produce synthetic seeds. Several plant growth regulators [6-benzylaminopurine, indole-3-acetic acid, alpha-naphthaleneacetic acid, kinetin and thidiazuron (TDZ)] alone or in combination were tested for their capacity to induce somatic embryogenesis. The highest induction frequencies of somatic embryos were obtained on Murashige and Skoog (MS) medium supplemented with 3% sucrose, 0.6% Phytagel, 500 mg l(-1) casein hydrolysate and 10 mg l(-1) TDZ (medium MS10). Somatic embryos were induced from leaf (69.8%) and internode (58.5%) explants on MS10 medium after 7 days. Subsequent withdrawal of TDZ from the induction medium resulted in the maturation and growth of the embryos into plantlets on MS basal media. The maturation frequency of somatic embryos from leaf and internodal explants was 50.8% and 45.8%, respectively. Subculturing of mature embryos led to their germination on the same medium with a germination frequency of 50.1% and 29.8% from leaf and internode explants, respectively. Somatic embryos obtained directly on leaf explants were used for encapsulation in liquid MS medium containing different concentrations of sodium alginate with a 30-min exposure to 50 mM CaCl2. A 3% sodium alginate concentration provided a uniform encapsulation of the embryos with survival and germination frequencies of 73.7% and 53.3%, respectively. Storage at 4degreesC for 30 days or 60 days significantly reduced the survival and complete germination frequencies of both encapsulated and non-encapsulated embryos relative to those of non-stored somatic embryos. However, the survival and germination rates of encapsulated embryos increased following storage at 4degreesC. After 30 days or 60 days of storage, the survival rates of encapsulated embryos were 67.8% and 53.5% and the germination frequencies were 43.2% and 32.4%, respectively. These systems could be useful for the rapid clonal propagation and dissemination of synthetic seed material of Paulownia elongata.