Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Sunday, May 10, 2015

A different kind of tulip

Late spring is tulip time. We don't have any of the traditional bulb type tulips planted in our garden but we do have an abundance of another kind of tulip. The tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) known by many common names such as tulip poplar, yellow poplar, or tulip magnolia grows plentifully in our woods.


Reminiscent of the spring blooming bulb, both the blooms and the leaves make the familiar tulip shape. These creamsicle colored  blooms are real charmers and attract bees and ruby-throated hummingbirds when they open.


Looking strictly at the structure of the blooms you can see how this tree is a member of the Magnoliacae family. It is the largest tree in the Eastern forests, growing as tall as 80 feet or more. Daniel Boone used the wood for his 60' dugout canoe. George Washington said it was one of his all time favorite trees and planted them at Mount Vernon some of which are more than 140' tall now.  These trees create a very tall canopy in our woods with the tallest trees void of lower branches making it difficult to see any insect activity on the leaves or blooms.


It is a wonderful tree for wildlife. White-tailed deer and rabbits browse the young trees. A host plant for the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and Spicebush butterfly as well as the Promethea and Tulip Tree moth. Migratory birds such as the Baltimore Orioles and Scarlet Tanagers feed in these trees while finches and hummingbirds seek out the flower's rich nectar. Seeds provide food for a variety of birds including finches, cardinals, and quail.


As the blooms are marooned so high up in the tree they are heavy with nectar, an adaptation developed to attract pollinators that don't normally forage so high up. After all there needs to be a reward for such a high altitude visit and these voluptuous blooms are the prize.

9 comments:

  1. We had so many tulip poplars growing up. They're beautiful in spring and fall.

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    1. Indeed they are. I love to look up high in the tree canopy and see these blooms against the blue sky. Kind of takes your breath away.

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  2. I've rarely seen these in bloom. Apparently, Wisconsin is on the very western edge of its range, so there are few of them here--mostly planted ones at botanical gardens. But I sort of remember seeing them in Indiana and Michigan when I was younger. My mom mentioned seeing them during my parents recent drive home from Florida to Wisconsin. What a wonderful tree!

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    1. Now, that you mention it Beth I can't recall seeing these trees in the Midwest either. I wish I could send you one. They grow here in abundance and I am constantly pulling out seedlings that make a home in beds too close to the house.

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  3. I have long loved this tree with its leaves and flowers....and had thought about adding it once we take down more ash trees....I will keep it on the list even though rabbits and deer browse it. Like Beth, I have rarely seen this in bloom.

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    1. Definitely a good one to add Donna. I haven't had a problem with the rabbits and deer browsing ours but then again we have three dogs that deter most of the rabbits and deer from foraging in our garden. I think all too often the blooms go unnoticed since they tend to be so high up in the tree. Unless you are really looking for them or you see them scattered on the ground they could be missed by the human eye.

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  4. Thanks! because this is the first time I've seen a tulip poplar.

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    1. I think I recall reading somewhere that they have been exported to Europe Lula but I imagine they are not too common.

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  5. I like this tree as well. In our area the tree does attract wildlife, but blooms a slight bit later in spring. The warblers that migrate like it too and they forage at the top of the tree.

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"Don't wait for someone to bring you flowers. Plant your own garden and decorate your soul"

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