06/04/13 1:30pm

800px-Liriodendron_tulipifera
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.