Saturday, December 29, 2007

Tulip Trees

Tulip trees reserve their charms for those who seek them out. Demure in all seasons, tulip trees are now discreetly displaying their unusual fruits.

The fruits hang on into the winter even after dispersing their winged seeds into the wind. Spring brings the "tulips", pale yellow blooms tinged with orange and green. Their unassertive colors can blend into the foliage and fail to catch your eye. But when you spot the flowers unexpectedly you are rewarded with the feeling of having discovered a secret.

Once you have seen a tulip tree leaf, you will never mistake it for that of another species. The distinctive shape has been described as that of a maple leaf with its tip cut off. The leaves turn a handsome yellow in the fall.

There is a massive and beautiful tulip tree at 443 Stelle Avenue near the corner of Field.

A tulip tree at 1001 Central Avenue illustrates two of the species' most typical features: a long, straight, slightly tapered trunk with no branches near the ground and a rather narrow crown. The form is distinctive enough that tulip trees can be recognized from a distance even when they are leafless.

970 Hillside Avenue provides another example of a mature tulip tree.

Tulip trees are also called tulip poplars or yellow poplars. In fact, they're neither true poplars nor closely related to the poplars (genus Populus). In the lumberyard, however, tulip tree wood is called poplar and is commonly sold for use as interior trim. The wood is among the lightest in weight of the hardwoods and is not particularly strong.

Tulip trees grow fast and become huge. In a favorable environment they can grow to 200 feet tall with ten foot diameter trunks.(1) Their massive size and weak wood make them susceptible to damage by high winds. For that reason tulip trees are not often used as street trees.

Light and easily worked wood can have advantages, however. Tulip tree trunks were hollowed out by several native American tribes to make canoes. It is said that Daniel Boone took his family and belongings down the Ohio River in a sixty-foot tulip tree canoe, abandoning Kentucky for the Spanish Territory in the late 1700s. (2)

(1) Trees of Pennsylvania and the Northeast, Charles Fergus. Stackpole Books 2002, p. 148.

(2) A Natural History of North American Trees, Donald Culross Peattie. Houghton Mifflin 2007, p. 260.

Copyright Gregory Palermo

1 comment:

MichaelT said...

I truly enjoy your postings - they are very informative.

Any plans to show the copper beech? There's a nice specimen on Palmer Avenue in South Plainfield, just 3 houses in from Sherman on the left.