Tuliptree Mania

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Shakespeare used the term ”trippingly” to refer to a lilting or nimble effect as in “trippingly on the tongue” rather than bombastic speechifying referenced in his Hamlet directives. The Latin name of tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera) should thusly be spoken trippingly. Try saying it out loud; very elvish and fairy-like trills, as befits the “trippingly” term he first used in “Midsummer Night’s Dream”.

And what a tree this is: large, lobed tulip-shaped leaves. The flowers are wondrous:  cup-shaped with yellow-green petals with orange flares at the base.  The tree grows upward and rapidly, straight on, seeking the regal peak atop the canopies of even oaks and maples. Tuliptrees are the largest flowering plants (Angiosperms) in North America, sometimes exceeding 150 feet in the Great Smoky Mountains, with a 191-foot giant measured there. It is the state tree of Kentucky.      

Tuliptree leaf hiding author Boggs


Tuliptrees are in the Magnoliaceae, the magnolia family, with one species native to eastern North America and one species (Liriodendron chinense) native to China and Vietnam. There are fossils of other Liriodendron  species from the late Cretaceous Period, some 70 million years ago or so. Today tuliptrees are used as landscape and parkland plants where there is room to grow, especially upward, and there are a number of cultivars with features such as variegated and gold-colored leaves.

Tulipwood is fine-grained and used in cabinet making and furniture finishing, and as one of the common names of canoewood infers, it was once used to construct dugout canoes. Other common names include tulip poplar or yellow poplar, but tuliptree is not related to poplars. Plant tuliptrees in sun or partial shade and in slightly acid, well-drained soils. Enjoy the tiny tulip-shaped leaves as they emerge and grow into large leaves (7 inches or more long and wide),the flowers on older trees, and their rapid growth. I planted a tuliptree seedling in my yard a little over 20 years ago and it is now over 60 feet tall.  That is the background…

...Now, this Ode to Tuliptree


Leeree-oh-den- dron too-lip-if-er-ahh, trippingly on the tongue

Liltingly, nimbly a dance across Nature’s green stage, a dream to be

An Asian cousin, others 70, 80 million years old

Today we plant anew, a giant someday to accrue

Leaves of tulips, blooming in the sun

Flowers of tepals, petals yellow-green, daubed with orange

Relatives magnolias blooming now in all their glory

Tulipwood trunks growing up, above the maples above the oaks

Canopy giants nurtured in forest soil of fauna and flora

Microbial glue binding and flowing freely

Leer-ee-oh den-dron too-lip-if-er-ahhhhh!