Conversations With Trees #20

   Yellow Poplar 008

Today’s tree:  Yellow Poplar or Tulip Tree, Liriodendron tulipfera

(doesn’t Liriodendron sound like a song?)

Yellow Poplar 001


Yellow Poplar 010Difficult to believe, for years I have passed by this absolutely massive tree a block away from me not noticing it!  A primary lesson from this activity of focusing on a different tree each day is realization of how much life becomes “background furniture.”  I have started to question how much I truly miss of the world around me.

The tulip tree is the largest hardwood tree in North America!  In fact it is so tall, I was unable to photograph the entire tree.

Apparently East of the Appalachian Mountains where this tree is most common, the Natives built so many canoes from its hardwood that its common name was the canoe tree. 

Interestingly, this tree is not a poplar but is related the magnolia family, which has over 80 flowering species in America and Asia and 200 species worldwide.  Its leaves are known to flutter and clap in the wind, which they certainly did as I was trying to capture them.

Yellow Poplar 004

Yellow Poplar 003I wrongly assumed its tulip tree moniker was thanks to its flowers instead of leaf shape.  People thought the leaf looks like a tulip in profile.  To me it looks like a 4-fingered palm doing a high-five.  In spring you apparently need binoculars to see the blossoms since they grow only on top of the canopy.  Here is an image of one typical flower for the yellow poplar thanks to a creative commons license.

Yellow poplar flower

Another identifying trait of the yellow poplar is that each new branch forms a V shape, which jives with what I see here.  I have several times in the Southern US and Seattle area seen another species of magnolia, the tulip magnolia with pink flowers that do look like tulips in bloom.

Yellow Poplar 002

A fascinating fact about magnolias’ ancient roots is that they are pollinated by beetles rather than bees.  This is because they grew during a time before bees existed on earth (!), about 200 million years ago in the Mesozoic.  My brain has always found it challenging to digest dates and time periods, so I get my ‘zoics’ confused.  If I approach history through studying the biology of trees, maybe it will stick.  Wouldn’t a school history curriculum taught from the perspective of trees be marvelous? 


About Erin W

A sensitive plant, bamboo strong.
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