Leaf First–The Tulip Tree

The bark may have been used as an aphrodisiac.

Another deciduous tree native to the eastern half of the US and Canada, Liriodendron tulipifera is a tall, relatively fast growing tree, which may grow to 90-120′. The same source (North American Trees, Preston and Braham ) says it matures in 200-250 years! Sometimes it is called a Yellow Poplar, although it is in the magnolia family.

Tulip tree leaf. Some say these look like women’s tee shirts.Ohers think they resemble a tulip flower.

I first found a leaf, the shape of which I couldn’t identify. It had drifted near the Kentucky Coffeetree but didn’t come from any of the other trees nearby. It took me awhile to find the matching tree behind a number of conifers along City Park Drive. It took even longer to figure out the name of the tree as it is sometimes difficult to match the identified dots on the map with trees, which may be unmarked or have a difficult tag to locate. The branches of the Tulip Tree are far above my head, a trait the USDA states is typical. Another identifying feature is the straightness of the trunk. North American Trees says this is one of the tallest and widest trees in the east.

On the Wood Database site, the lumber for this tree is listed under Yellow Poplar, although its latin name, Liriodendron tulipfera, identifies it as the correct tree. The wood from these trees has been used for berry buckets and canoes, as well as lumber. It also makes good kindling for a fire. Although the wood’s utility as kindling would seem to contradict it, logs have been used to build cabins and the bark was used for roofing. North American Trees suggests the wood may also be made into coffins. Others have used the bark to produce rope. Although one source says the flower buds taste like turpentine, squirrels apparently are partial to them.

Over the years this tree had a number of medicinal uses. As with many trees, a powder made of the bark had been used for “digestive problems” as well as arthritis. Leaves and buds have been used as poultices on burns and for other skin ailments. One of the most interesting uses of the tree bark was as an aphrodisiac either chewed or brewed into a bitter tea. Another helpful use of the bark was as a substitute for quinine, used to treat malaria. At least one contemporary author wondered how a Tulip Tree and Tonic would taste!

Most resources do not mention this tree as a good source of food, although this video  suggests there is a treat hidden in the flowers. Although I walk past this specimen many times a week, I can’t say I ever noticed the spring flowers. This might be because the first branches are far above my head. I am not likely to be able to grab a branch to sip the nectar as the woman in the short video does!

The bark and leaves

LOCATION. The Tulip Tree is B113 on the Arboretum map. I wasn’t able to find the tag on the tree. The easiest way to locate the tree is probably by finding a leaf under it, as well as viewing the photo below. This tree is slightly south and west of the redbud. You might enter the park through the stone entry and walk the wrong down the one-way street.  The street curb can be


Tulip Tree forefront. Conifers behind it

seen in the photo above. From the entry, this may be the closest large tree to the road on the North side.

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