Urban Wilds Vol. 8 – Tulip Trees

Photo via wikipedia by Bruce Marlin

Urban Wilds is written by Lela S. Lela lives in Petworth. She previously wrote about vultures.

For the last few weeks, tulip tree flowers have been falling in the DC area. These gorgeous blossoms – two to three inches long, green and yellow and orange – are the product of one of my favorite plants in this part of the country. Also called tulip poplars, this species is a swift- and straight-growing tree that commonly reaches 100 feet. If left alone, they can become true giants: before they were heavily logged in the 1800s for building materials ranging from ship masts to organ pipes, old-growth tulip trees were recorded at 200 feet tall with diameters of as much as twelve feet. They’ll live up to three centuries under good conditions. Honeybees favor the nectar (which can supposedly be drunk straight from the flower – I intend to try this immediately) and produce a medium-amber honey that’s often used in commercial baking. In Maryland, tulip trees are a primary source of nectar for foraging bees.

Tulip trees can be found in parks and wooded areas around the city, as well as along a number of our streets. Their leaves might be mistaken for a maple’s, but their flowers are unmistakable, especially scattered across a Washington sidewalk. This time of year, the quickest way to find a tulip tree might be to first look down, then up.

10 Comment

  • Emmaleigh504

    Interesting, I didn’t know that about the bees.

  • I just ordered a tulip tree to be planted on our property through the River Smart program… only $50! what an amazing deal. Looking forward to it growing fast and providing some much needed shade.

  • em

    Plus it has one of the best scientific names in the plant kingdom… Liriodendron tulipifera (tulip-bearing lily tree)

  • These are also one of the oldest plants in the DC area, dating way back to the Cretaceous. They are in the magnolia family, so are not tulips nor poplars.

  • I’m glad you called it a tuliptree, and not a tulip poplar. That’s one of my biggest pet peeves as a forester. One of my favorite trees, but they should be planted some distance from structures, because they do have a tendency to drop large limbs in their middle age.

  • Tulip Poplar, not “tulip trees.” No one calls these “tulip trees.” I know you said “also called tulip poplar,” but that is just incorrect. Thats just what they are called, not also called… I am from KY.. that is out state tree…

  • The tulip tree at Tudor Place (along 31st Street in Georgetown) has been designated a witness tree. It’s among the largest (if not *the* largest) specimens in North America.

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