Priory Trees: The Tulip Tree

For a short while, it is the garden’s signature tree.  For most of the year it holds either naked branches against sky; or else a wrap of unremarkable green – like so many other large trees at The Priory.  It isn’t quite the biggest tree and it isn’t quite my favourite.  But for a few days in autumn, it is the signature tree.  To me.

Tulip Tree Liriodendron tulipifera (5)

Someone, a long time ago, planted a small tulip tree, a Liriodendron tulipifera, close by the northwestern corner of the house;

Tulip Tree Liriodendron tulipifera (1)

and, when he or she planted it a little too close against the walls, they did so without a thought for a gardener – with no head for heights – having to clear its leaves from giddy-height guttering.  The tree is small no more.

Tulip Tree Liriodendron tulipifera (2)

Its unremarkable summer-green morphs – almost over-night – into a golden sensation.  Generally in November, especially in morning or late afternoon low sun, the tree shines; changing colour as I move around the garden.

Tulip Tree Liriodendron tulipifera (6)

Every year, I hope the short-lived spectacle will last a little longer, the after-party raking up put off.  It rarely does.  Some years, strong winds rip away the Lothlórien gold within a day or so; some years, the leaves are ripped away before they gleam even.  And I am cheated.

Tulip Tree Liriodendron tulipifera (4)

That brilliant canopy towering above the rooftops dominates The Priory and garden; but not in a brutish, show-off way.

Tulip Tree Liriodendron tulipifera (3)

Rather, I think of the tulip tree as a coy, self-effacing type; murmuring bashfully to itself, “Oh my word, look what’s happened to me.  Good gracious.  How terribly ostentatious.  I didn’t intend … ,” before trailing off in embarrassment.

Tulip Tree Liriodendron tulipifera (7)

Most years, I watch the dropping leaves fall slowly to earth for about ten days, heartened by the sight whilst it lasts;

Tulip Tree Liriodendron tulipifera (8)

always aware that it is a short-lived pleasure.

It’s called the tulip tree because of its flowers, of course.  I rarely see these lofty, upward-facing, tulip-y flowers and in all the years of our acquaintance, it’s never occurred to me to photograph one.

Liriodendron_tulipifera_tulip

But that needn’t stop me showing you, privately, how pretty they are.  (Thanks to Wikipedia for this image).

Tulip Tree Liriodendron tulipifera (9)

November 2013

This remarkable leaf-colour event, marking the tailspin of the year, always puts me to wondering what life will hold for me the next time I see it; the next time I rake up the aftermath.  I’ve seen the tulip tree’s autumn performance ten times and I can’t help but ponder how often I’ll see it again before I leap the fence to pastures new.

But it isn’t my favourite tree in the garden.  No … there is another.

41 thoughts on “Priory Trees: The Tulip Tree

  1. That’s a beautiful tree. I particularly like Liriodendron when they grow in the woods and don’t have any low branches, just a massive, perfectly straight trunk disappearing into the canopy high above. Tallest tree species in eastern N. America.

    A very old and historically significant specimen near where I live recently had a near death experience:
    http://www.heraldsun.com/news/local/counties/orange-county/article182562686.html

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    • Ouch. Near death for the professor too. Interesting that that tree is 300 years old and noticeably bigger than mine. I guess the Priory tulip is about 150? But I am guessing.

      I’m with you on the bare trunk – we did remove a couple of lower branches a couple of years ago and the tree looks better for it. D

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  2. Nice post. I yearn for gardening and horticulture and general tree-type salutations at this point of the year.

    Just as an aside, was the final sentence a homage to Yoda, in this pre-Christmas period, I wonder?

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  3. We planted our Tulip tree and I have to agree with you that it is not our favourite tree but yes it has its time of glory. It is relatively fast growing and all the bees like the flowers. The downside in France is that most people call deciduous Magnolias tulipier, so you have a choice of a complicated explanation or just sound pretentious and call it Liriodendron. Amelia

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  4. A wonderful tree, with some wonderfully evocative photos. I planted one in my most sheltered spot but even so, it couldn’t survive — winters in rural Quebec are simply too cold. Liriodendron was one of Thomas Jefferson’s favourite trees. He used to escape from Monticello where he was often surrounded by too much society and work to Poplar Forest, a secondary country property. Only after visiting this house some years ago did I realize that the ‘poplar’ was a tulip poplar. The trees were stately but since I was seeing them in summer, they hadn’t turned the magnificent gold of your handsome tree.

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  5. Sheer madness! I seem to recall you saying that the owner lived elsewhere so the place was uninhabited most, if not all, of the time. If my recollection is right, then deliberately not being around to see sights like that is sheer madness. If gutter guards are not an option, there are some gizmos on very long poles which allow you to clean gutters from, or near, ground level. If that’s not an option, try blindfolding yourself before climbing the ladder.

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    • Thanks, John but I couldn’t possibly comment on the timings of visits by the owner. Now can I? Having thought long and hard over your suggestions, I’m particularly taken with the blindfold idea. Brilliance!

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    • Thanks very much, Catherine. Actually yes, re gutter guard thoughts. They were meant to be installed a while ago but it didn’t happen for one reason or another. A decision to be re-visited though! D

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  6. In Victoria, British Columbia there is an avenue of these trees in Beacon a hill park. I have often felt compelled to point out their flowers to passers by who, failing to look up, continue on their way oblivious to the beauty above.

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    • Doh, and I didn’t even mention the lovely, unique (?) leaves (other than having to rake up an awful lot of them). Neither did I mention that I found a seedling not long ago but when I went back to pot up, it had gone. That’ll teach me, D

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  7. I’ve always enjoyed tulip trees…in other people’s yards. The flowers are pretty, but, some years, it seems as though a late freeze, hard rain, or blustery day rob the trees in our neighborhood of their lovely blossoms. I had never really paid attention to their fall colours. Perhaps I should find a place in my yard for such autumnal loveliness.

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    • That’s the opposite of me, BLL. As I said above, I’ve never really been aware of the flowers – very rarely even seem them – as they are so high up, whereas the autumn colour is simply fantastic and a big event in my year (I don’t get out much) 🙂

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  8. You final photo is particularly nice – – I think “Lothlórien gold” is very apt.
    They grow in the woods here, sometimes, I looked at the range map and this part of upstate New York is pretty much their northern limit. I never seem to be around when they’re blooming, but I like the interesting seed pods, especially when we’re into the brown-and-gray time of the year.

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    • Hi Robert, I was trying to think of yellow-y, gold-y type words and Lothlórien usefully popped into my head. I should think mallorn trees looked very much like the tulip tree … except they had silver bark. And elves lived in them on huge platforms. Interesting that you’re at the northern range of the tree – I hadn’t thought that they must have one, of course. They must be quite a sight en-masse (I’ve only ever seen singles). D

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