Is it a tulip? A poplar? No, tulip-poplar is a magnolia! Liriodendron tulipifera, one of those plants whose scientific names roll right off the tongue, is in full bloom on the Domain now. A member of the Magnolia Family, its blossoms do resemble smaller, brighter versions of the creamy white flowers of members of the magnolia genus, its first cousin.
Like the magnolias, yellow-poplar flowers produce copious amounts of nectar, attracting bees and other pollinating insects. Its honey seems to get mixed reviews except for bakers, who love it. After the blooms die, the fruits consist of a cone of winged seeds that flutter to the ground over a period of weeks or months.Seeds can remain viable on the forest floor for years, waiting for a light to gap open.
The tallest, straightest tree in the Eastern Deciduous Forest, tulip-poplar, or yellow-poplar, as it’s also known, shoots to the top of the canopy if it gets the chance. If it can’t grab and hold a spot in the sunlight, the plant will languish and die. It simply cannot compete in the shady forest understory.
The plant is a mainstay of our cove forests, usually indicating some previous disturbance. A grove of same-aged yellow-poplars could signal the presence of an overgrown agricultural field or logging at some point in the past. A beautiful and fast-growing tree, at least one yellow-poplar was planted at Monticello by Thomas Jefferson, who referred to it as “the Juno of our Groves.” Check here for more on our lovely state tree.