Sunday, 12 October 2014

Tree Identification № 3: Tulip Tree

The Tulip Tree, Liriodendron tulipifera (what a great name: it means lily tree producing tulips) is a handsome tree native to the Eastern United States. Or maybe South Eastern Canada to mid-western USA. Books tell you different things. So you don't get that many in North London. We have a little group near where I live which have grown very tall and straight (Tulip Trees can grow up to 36m) and when I have been to look, the flowers seem to be mostly right at the top. Obscured by the plentiful glossy leaves.

The saddle-shaped leaves are pretty unusual so definitely worth a look, and the butter yellow autumn colour is lovely, but this tree is really notable for its beautiful green and orange flowers. If you need a pair of binoculars or a camera with a long lens to see the flowers properly it's a real shame because they are stunning.

So I was thrilled when by chance I found a Tulip Tree in the garden of a local pub. It looks as though it was planted underneath an existing tree so that it has grown rather low and sort of sideways in an attempt to reach the light. And because the tree grows so low you can get a really great look at the flowers. As luck would have it the tree was in full flower when we went for a drink.

Luckily I had a camera with me. Well, you never know when you are going to need one.

Of course, if you are a real expert (which I'm not) you can tell a tree from the bark and buds when there are no leaves at all. Although you can often cheat by looking under the tree. Fallen leaves frequently lie around for longer than you might think (especially if there is a shrub or hedge to protect them from the weather) so take a look around and impress your friends with your expertise.

However, if you want to know, the bark is dark grey and ridged, the shoots are alternate, and the fruits or seed heads are brown and papery; you're looking for the centre of the flower turned a papery brown. The fruits persist through the winter, but you can often spot fallen seeds or entire seed heads lying under the tree.

For me, though, with a Tulip Tree, it's all about the leaves and the sensational flowers. I read that in its native North America the flowers are a source of nectar for humming birds. That would be something to see. Obviously we have no humming birds in North London.


  1. Thanks! Next time you are in London in June go to the Spaniards pub between Highgate and Hampstead. Or find somewhere more local!!