brings out the best in flowering trees, especially
native species like purplish-pink redbuds, white
dogwoods and sweet bay magnolias, all relatively small
there’s the big daddy tulip tree, which can grow a
magnificent 100 feet tall, according to Helen Hamilton,
native plant expert and member of the John Clayton
Chapter, Virginia Native Plant Society.
tallest tree in the forest is often the tulip tree,
protruding over the canopy of other trees," she
usually grows over 100 feet tall with a trunk diameter
of two to three feet, but in rich woods, it can reach
nearly 200 feet in height and 10 feet in diameter. The
largest trees of this species are in rich woods as in
the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with trees over
20 feet in circumference. Tulip trees in Virginia’s
Shenandoah National Park are over 120 feet tall with
diameters of over five feet."
the tulip tree goes through its juvenile stage and
reaches adulthood in 15 to 20 years, it produces
eye-catching yellow and white flowers. Tulip trees grow
tall and straight, branching in a conical or pyramidal
shape, according to Hamilton.
the forest, this tree is easily recognized by the trunk,
which is free of branches for the first several feet,
and the dark gray bark, often whitened in grooves,"
tree is unique because no other tree has square-shaped
leaves with four to six lobes, according to Hamilton.
The leaves appear before any flowers, and persist
through autumn, turning a brilliant yellow by October.
from April through June, depending on location and
weather, the flowering period for each tree is only two
to six weeks. Pollination must occur when the flowers
are young; they are often receptive only for 12 to 24
hours. The plant produces large quantities of nectar for
pollinating insects such as flies, beetles, honey bees
and bumblebees, but they are not very efficient
pollinators and many seeds do not develop. Tulip tree
honey is a commercial product.
trees are long-timers, some having been found to be more
than 300 years old, according to Hamilton.
flowers grow high in the canopy and are often seen only
from the petals that fall on the pathways," she
the five petals of each flower are greenish-yellow with
orange markings, and in the center there are many
yellow-orange stamens and pistils, spirally arranged.
The flowers are followed by narrow, upright cone-shaped
fruit clusters of numerous, winged samaras. These dry
fruits are often seen below the trees in early winter,
and the seeds are eaten by squirrels, rabbits, mice and
trees thrive in moist, well-drained soils and rich woods
throughout the eastern United States to the Mississippi
River, and grow wild in every county in Virginia,
according to Gustav Hall, professor emeritus, College of
William and Mary.
tree was introduced into Europe from Virginia by the
earliest colonists and is also cultivated on the Pacific
Coast," he says.
is often known as tulip-poplar and yellow poplar, and
has been referred to as simply ‘poplar,’ but this
name properly belongs to cottonwoods and their relatives
in the willow family."
the tree is an often-used hardwood with a fine, straight
grain that’s easy to work and hard to split, according
to Hamilton. It’s used for furniture, musical
instruments and boat interiors, she says.
caterpillars, including locally known moths and
butterfly species, love to munch on the leaves of the
tulip tree, according to Hamilton.
in our area is the tulip-tree beauty (Epimecis hortaria),
an inchworm that develops into a moth with a striking
black and white pattern," she says.
have no legs in the middle of their body, which is why
they loop when walking."
of the eastern tiger swallowtail, (Papilio glaucus) also
thrive on tulip tree leaves, according to Adrienne
Frank, a Virginia master naturalist with the Historic
the early summer of 2013, the population of caterpillars
was very high, and as a result the top leaves of many
tulip trees were eaten, leaving bare branches showing at
the canopy of the trees," Frank says.
spot an eastern tiger swallowtail, look for males that
are yellow with dark "tiger" stripes,
according to Brian Taber, president of the Coastal
Virginia Wildlife Observatory. Females have two forms:
one yellow like the male and the other black with
shadows of dark stripes. Both female forms have a row of
blue and yellow chevrons (lines or stripes in the shape
of a V) and an iridescent blue wash over parts of the
interior hind wing, he explains.
butterflies reproduce two or three times during the
season, which is why you see them in early spring,
according to Hamilton. Each female lays a single egg on
host plant leaves. As they develop, caterpillars eat the
leaves and rest on silken mats on the upper surface of
leaves. They overwinter as chrysalis.
host plants for these butterflies are wild cherry, sweet
bay magnolia, willow and birch. Adults feed on the
nectar of flowers from a variety of plants, including
wild cherry, milkweeds and Joe-pye weed, says Hamilton.