Tulip Tree

Garden Clippings for Jan 14, 2023

In the long run, planting native trees is a better bet for native insects, pollinators, birds and animals.  Native trees grow well in their native environment.  They are generally more disease and pest resistant than their exotic counterparts and are more wildlife friendly.

Sticking to an all-native tree diet has its challenges. We fashion-conscious consumers want the pretty, the weeping, the upright and the dwarf.  And while the native tree quest is gaining momentum, it doesn’t appear as if the foreign will disappear anytime soon.

The other issue with native trees is that we now live in a non-native environment.  We live in cities where there is often no shade.  Our water table is falling because we design buildings so they won’t flood basements.  Concrete, pavement and plastic have become our friends.  The few inches of topsoil we put down in subdivisions is a far cry from the vibrant forest floor.

Horticulturists and nursery growers have responded to modern times by breeding trees that tolerate city conditions and suit the tastes of consumers and landscape architects.

In southwestern Ontario we have several native trees that do double duty by tolerating urban environments and can be plucked out of the native forest and transplanted into home gardens. One of my favorites is Tulip tree, which grows comfortably in our Carolinian forest.  Although not plentiful, we have a few growing along the forested sections of the Howard Watson Nature Trail.

Tulip trees (Liriodendron Tulipifera) are so abundant in the Northeastern United States that Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana have named it their official state tree.  Here in Ontario Tulip trees can be found along the lower Great Lakes up to Toronto which is considered to be the limit of the Carolinian zone.  Tulip trees are quite plentiful in Pinery Provincial Park.

Distinguishing features of Tulip Trees are their height, fast growth rate, and straight main stem.  Their lush true-green leaves resemble those of Maple but without the central pointed lobe.  Tulip trees like well-drained soil but will tolerate the challenges of compacted clay soil.

In Sarnia, we have a few mature Tulip Trees south of the downtown core, in the vicinity of the Sarnia Public Library.  They are so tall that they resemble hydro poles, with branches high above residential rooftops.

Tulip Trees have magnificent pale-yellow blooms that look like complicated tulips.  Flowers won’t appear on Tulip Trees until they are a decade old and are often so high in the tree that they are hardly noticed.  Flowers are fragrant with nectar enjoyed by bees.  Their brown seeds feed birds and squirrels, along with other small animals.

If Tulip Trees have any negative attributes, it may be that they eventually grow a little too big, for small city lots.  Tulip trees are weak wooded and will often drop small limbs during a windstorm.

Tulip trees are not as abundant as Maples and Oaks, but their numbers are growing, mostly fueled by the recent desire to plant more native trees.

In next week’s Garden Clippings we will learn about Sugar Maples, the tree all Canadians love to love.