The early 20th Century saw the introduction of the Chestnut Blight, which destroyed the American Chestnuts (Castanea dentata [Marshall] Borkhauser) in the eastern U.S. After these trees died, other tree species moved in to fill their spots. One of them was the Tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera L.).
Tuliptree is a member of the Family Magnoliaceae and of the Subfamily Liriodendroidae. The generic name, Liriodendron, is Greek for “Lily Tree” Leirion or lirion is “lily” and dendron is “tree”. The specific epithet, tulipifera, is Latin for ‘tulip-bearing”, because the flowers resemble tulips.
At different times and places, other common names for this species have been American Tuliptree, Basswood, Blue Poplar, Canary Wood, Canary Yellowwood, Canoe Tree, Hickory Poplar, Old Wife’s Shirt Tree, Poplar, Popple, Saddleleaf, Saddletree, Sap Poplar, Soft Yellow Poplar, Tulip Magnolia, Tulip Poplar, White Poplar, Whitewood, and Yellow Poplar. This species is not related to the Poplars (Genus Populus).
This tree is both fast growing and long-lived. It can produce flowers and seeds after 15-20 years.
Fossils of this genus go back to the Cretaceous Period (approximately 145½-65½ million years ago) of the Mesozoic Era. There were once several species of this genus in North America and in Eurasia. However, the Ice Ages of the Pleistocene Epoch (approximately 12 thousand to 2½ million years ago) of the Quaternary Period and the Cenozoic Era drove most members of this genus into extinction.
DESCRIPTION OF THE TULIPTREE
Height: Its height is 50-200 feet. It is the tallest eastern deciduous tree species.
Diameter: Its diameter is 2-10 feet. Its diameter in the East is second only to the American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis L.).
Crown: Its crowns are high, narrow, columnar, pyramidal, and compact in the forests and are broad, oblong, and irregular in the open. Their branches angle upwards.
Trunk: Its single trunk is tall, straight, massive, and has little taper. It is buttressed and hollowed at the base. It often has no branches for the first 30-100 feet or about 2/3 of its height.
Twigs: Its twigs are stout, erect, and shiny. They are yellow-green their 1st spring but later become reddish brown with a purple or a whitish bloom. The leaf scars are oval or rounded, elevated, and have 3 bundle scars. The stipule scars completely encircle the twig. It has pale lenticels. Its pith is both solid and chambered. White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus Zimmermann) eat these twigs.
Buds: Its buds are green to dark red-brown. Its terminal bud is about ½-1 inch long and is flat with its 2 outer scales meeting along the edge (valvate). Its lateral buds are smaller and have a powdery coating. Eastern Cottontail Rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus J.A. Allen) eat these buds.
Leaves: Its leaves are deciduous, simple, and alternate. Each leaf is about 3-10 inches long and wide. It has 4 (or 6) broad, triangular lobes. The basal lobes are broader upon the younger leaves. Its apex upon the terminal lobe is either squared or has a broad, shallow notch across its top. Its margin is smooth. Its petiole is slender, angled, and about 2½-6 inches long. It has a pair of large leafy stipules in the spring that encircle the twig and enclose the bud. White-tailed Deer eat these leaves.
These leaves are shiny green on top and are paler on the bottom. They turn yellow in the fall.
Flowers: Its flowers are solitarily arranged upon the terminal ends of the branches. Each flower is about 1½-3 inches long and wide and is showy. It has green-yellow (rarely white) tips, orange bases, and is either cup- or tulip-shaped. Each flower has 6 rounded, leathery or waxy petals, 3 greenish white sepals, numerous pale yellow to bright orange stamens, and numerous green and spindle-shaped pistils.
These flowers, which bloom after the leaves emerge, are often located within the tree canopy and are difficult to observe. They are insect-pollinated and provide nectar for Bees (Superfamily Apoidea), Beetles (Order Coleoptera), Flies (Order Diptera), and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris L.). This tree is a good honey-producing plant. Flowering season is May to June.
Fruits: Its fruits are dry, narrow, light brown, upright, 1½-3 inch long, aggregated, spindle-shaped cones. These cones consist of clusters of narrow, stacked, overlapping, 1-1½ inch long nutlets around a central axis. Each nutlet has 1-2 seeds. When ripe, these cones disintegrate into numerous nutlets. The nutlets in the center of the cone fall before the nutlets along the edge of the cone.
Seeds: Its seeds are encased in a hard, bony coat and have a single wing (samara). A good crop is produced nearly every year. These seeds are carried by the wind and can travel up to 4-5 times the height of the tree. These seeds are about 10% viable but can remain viable upon the ground for 4-7 years. Songbirds (Suborder Passeri), such as Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis L.) and Finches (Family Fringillidae); and small Mammals (Class Mammalia), such a Squirrels (Family Sciuridae), White-tailed Deer, Eastern Cottontail Rabbits, and White-footed Mice (Peromyscus leucopus Rafinesque), often eat these seeds.
Bark: Its young bark is thin, smooth, scaly, and grayish to dark green. The branching sites may have dark chevrons. The older bark is more brownish or medium gray, thick, and is deeply furrowed vertically with intersecting rounded ridges and is separated by grayish fissures. Eastern Cottontail Rabbits eat the inner bark.
Wood: Its wood is light, soft, weak, brittle, fine- or straight-grained, durable, and diffuse-porous. It resists splitting and is easily worked. Its heartwood is light yellow or green-brown and its sapwood is thin and cream-colored.
Roots: Its roots are both deep and wide spreading.
Habitats: Its habitats are deep, rich, moist, slightly acidic, fertile soils, often near streams. It may be found near Eastern Hemlocks (Tsuga canadesis [L.] Carriere) or near other deciduous trees. It is rarely found in pure stands. It is a pioneer succession species and is shade intolerant.
Tuliptrees are often found in soils that are suitable for agriculture. The early European settlers often sought land that had these trees because of its fertile soil.
Range: Its range covers most of the eastern U.S. as far west as the Mississippi River, excluding New England, the upper Great Lakes, and much of Florida. They are highly sensitive to frost and cannot tolerate northern climates. .
Both the Native Americans and the early European settlers had uses for this tree. It was used for both high-grade lumber and medicine.
Its wood was used for cabinetry, furniture, boats, boxes, crates, coffins, fence posts, musical instruments, kitchen utensils, turnery, toys, plywood, veneer, pulp and paper, and fuel. Some of the paper was used as high-grade book paper.
Tuliptree wood has some use in construction. Although it is not strong enough to be used as beams and columns, it can be used as interior and exterior trim, paneling, and shingles. It also provides good insulation and takes paint well. It was once favored for building log cabins.
The trunk was carved out to make a lightweight, thin-wall dugout canoe. In 1799, frontiersman Daniel Boone moved his family and their belongings from Kentucky to Missouri in a 60-foot long dugout.
Different parts of the tree had medicinal uses. The inner root bark contains the alkaloid hydrochlorate of tulipiferene, which is used as a stimulant for the heart and the nervous system. A bark tea was taken internally for treating cholera, dysentery, dyspepsy, fevers, indigestion, malaria, pinworms, rheumatism, and toothaches. It was used as a diaphoretic, a diuretic, and a tonic. It was used in cough remedies. It was also used as a wash for treating boils, fractures, insect bites, snakebites, and wounds. The young, green bark was chewed as an aphrodisiac and as a stimulant. An ointment of the buds and grease was used for treating scalds, burns, and inflammations. A crushed leaf poultice was used for treating headaches. Pounded bark was fed to livestock to expel worms. This species was listed in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia (1820-1882).
Tuliptree is planted as an ornamental tree. As early as 1687, this tree was exported to Europe as an ornamental. It is also the state tree of Indiana (1931), Kentucky (1994), and Tennessee (1947).
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