Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Liriodendron tulipifera....Yellow Poplar or Tulip Tree

This is a Tuliptree flower. It is big,nearly 3 inches in diameter, colorful, and well, fun. It's a typical magnolia type flower with thick petals, numerous stamens, and many carpels arranged spirally on an elongated central axis. This is considered to be a "primitive" type of flower, because it is large and relatively simple. Unlike most of the rest of the Magnoliaceae which are beetle pollinated, Tuliptrees are pollinated by bees. The fruits, winged samaras, are obnoxious by virtue of a sharp point that makes them painful to barefeet. Since they don't fall usually till quite late in the year, often November or even later, it often doesn't matter because cold weather has already put shoes on our feet.

Tuliptrees are basically creatures of secondary forests. Their seeds don't germinate well in the deep shade of a mature forest. Once started though, they grow rapidly and quickly approach and pass 100' in height. I have several times been introduced to trees that were 2+ feet in diameter by the person who planted them. In less than 25 years in this Adelphi house, a Tuliptree in the back of the garden has grown from about 40' to more than twice that. They quickly take over the "recovering forest areas" at the Arboretum both because of the prolific numbers in which they germinate, and their rapid growth. Historically, Oaks, have eventually replaced them in very old forests because they have more staying power in terms of fire and disease resistance, and also because they are better able to germinate in heavy shade.Two states, Indiana and Kentucky, have chosen Liriodendron as their state tree.

If you have gardened in a yard with a Tuliptree, you know that the roots are pleasantly fragrant.
An unpleasant consequence of development is the isolation of small bits of forest at the edges of new lots in new developments. Tuliptrees that grew up in the middle of a forest are among the least able of all trees to deal with suddenly being "free standing." They do die and or blow down, but they usually leave seedlings and, while few trees enjoy growing in the open, seedlings that develop in full sun usually become acceptable lawn trees.

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