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.

PA090086
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!

PA090028
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

 

PA090080
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.

Kentucky Coffeetree: What about those Pods!

 

We often have stubby pods littering our sidewalk. I thought they grew on a neighbor’s tree, but apparently they originate from the Kentucky Coffeetree. This tree is practically straight across the street from my house yet, I never really noticed it until I started this blog. The specimen in the park is tall so some details are difficult to discern from the ground.

P9240020
View of the Kentucky Coffeetree week of September 26, 2017

 

When studying the tree this afternoon, I noticed a cluster of green pods. When I checked the ground, there were a few brown pods directly under the tree. Apparently they fall in the spring and these are leftovers. Cracking open the leathery skin, the first thing I noticed was how sticky they are. The round seeds, about the size of a dime, are contained in  white and green pulp that looks like an insect cocoon. Not only is the pulp sticky, the seeds are PA010079as well.

There are a number of stories about how the tree got its name related to a use for the seeds. Basically, they involve someone brewing the seeds to make a drink similar to coffee. Some say Native Americans made a brew but didn’t call it coffee. Others suggest settlers copied the Native Americans and called it coffee, while others say the practice became popular after the Civil War. There are debates on the web about the taste. Some say it is awful, others prefer it to coffee. Everyone stresses that unless roasted, the seeds, as well as other parts of the tree, are poisonous. Because these trees are not plentiful in Colorado, it is unlikely that anyone locally would be able to collect enough of the pods to actually use to make a beverage. The cleaning and roasting needed is enough to discourage me from trying with my two pods.

The USDA also mentions that there are reports that the tree can be poisonous to cows and other animals. Native Americans may have used the pods to stun fish so they were easier to catch by hand. Most medicinal uses involve laxatives with the caution that the tree, like the Soapberry from the previous post, contains saponins and may have been used to make soap as well.

A far better use of the tree–although NOT of the tree in the park!–might be for lumber. For a picture of the heartwood and information about the lumber, see The Wood Database.  The wood is rated as a good firewood. Fenceposts made from the trees are long-lasting. Possibly these uses of the tree have contributed to it becoming more rare.

The deciduous tree is usually 60-75 feet tall at maturity, but a championship tree has been measured at 120′ tall. It has bi-pinnated compound leaves which are said to be the largest of any native tree. (I think I need to measure it against a Catalpa leaf!)

P9240045
One Compound Leaf?

Most sources say these leaves turn yellow and drop early in the fall. This is hard to determine at the moment as very few of the leaves in the park have even started to turn as of October 2nd. One of the twenty or so alternate names for this tree is dead tree, possibly due to the fact that the tree can remain without buds or foliage for up to six months, with only clusters of seed pods clacking in the wind. Again, this tree is right across the street from my house and I never noticed its fall color or its late onset of new leaves. I certainly will be on the lookout now!

From the USDA distribution map, it looks like this tree could once be found in most of the eastern half of the US and Canada. Kansas is the westernmost border. Other maps show this member of the pea family as being less common than the USDA map indicates, possibly due to loss of habitat and minimal use as an ornamental.

Location: The Kentucky Coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus) is B110 on the Self-Guided Tree Tour. As can be seen from the photo above, it is possible to park right in front of it. It is on the northern edge of the park, along Oak Street. At the corner of Jackson and Oak, head west and stop across from the fourth house on the opposite side of the street.

P9240022
Kentucky Coffeetree bark is rough and grayish in color.