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We are in debt to our Yellow poplar trees

Yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), also known as tulip poplar, and sometimes white wood, is the giant of our eastern hardwood forests, usually 50’ to 70’ tall with a trunk 2’ to 3’ in diameter. However, the tallest known yellow poplar is in the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and is over 191 feet tall, making it the tallest known deciduous tree in eastern North America. Only the eastern white pine rivels the yellow poplar in height. The tallest tree in Delaware is a yellow poplar at Winterthur, measuring 173 feet. It is also the second largest tree in Delaware, which takes into account its height, its circumference at breast height (240”) and its average crown spread. It has a diameter of about 6 feet, 4 inches.

Yellow poplars are also called tulip poplars because of their blossoms, which are about the same size and shape as tulips. Mature trees bloom in late April or early May.

"Tulip" poplar blossom

After a windy day in early May, you may have seen a few large blossoms lying on the ground. and perhaps wondered where they came from.

Next time you see some, look up, waaay up, and you’ll see the yellow blossoms in the crown of the tree. With binoculars you may even see honey bees collecting nectar from the blossoms.

Dangled by their stems, the shape of the yellow poplar leaves reminds me of a large T-shirt.

Yellow poplar wood has long been an important resource in Delaware, historically used for furniture, planning mill products, boxes and crates, baskets, ships and boats, caskets and coffins, pulp, musical instruments, woodenware (novelties), houses, toys, vehicle parts, and turned articles (patterns). Commission for the Conservation of Forests in Delaware report, 1927

The sapwood, closest to the bark, is white, but the heartwood is usually an olive drab color, and sometimes almost black.

A large Yellow poplar - mid-March, 2023
The same tree, April 27, 2023

Paleobotanists have found that, prior to the Ice age, there were several Lirodendrons, but only 2 species, one in America and one in China, have survived the evolution of the ages. The later is L. chinensis. Sarg.

Bark of a large Yellow poplar, on a rainy day

At Abbott’s Mill Nature Center we have an individual yellow poplar with five mature trunks, which we refer to as the “Council Tree.” Very likely the tree was harvested many, many years ago, and the stump survived, sending up shoots that each resemble five full-grown trees. Two or three trunks are not uncommon, but five, not so much.

Five very large yellow poplar trees growing from the same stump

About 8 feet above the ground there is just enough room between the 5 trees to get my arm in to take this picture.

The Flora and The Fauna

Said the fauna to the flora, upon the forest floor,

“Which tree is the tallest, is it the Sycamore?”

The Tulip tree was listening and answered “it is me.”

To which the Pine responded “Can neither of you see?"

"When it comes to being tall clearly I am very!”

“I’m not so sure, you sappy bore”, chimed the nearby Cherry.

“Such crowing from my forest friends and foolish paranoia”

“It is I, without a doubt!” Exclaimed the great Sequoia.

“Nonsense!” said a gnarly tree “Till now I have not spoke"

"The grandest tree, for all to see Is me the Mighty Oak!"

The forest filled with endless boasts as the night came creeping.

The stately Spruce called for a truce, the willow tree was weeping.

Said the Flora to the Fauna as the day departed,

“Happy now my mossy friend, just look at what you started!” Copyright © Kitty Lou

Sources: "Big Trees of Delaware," 5th edition

"Delaware Trees" by William S. Taber, B. F. (available from the Delaware Department of Agriculture, Forest Service)

"Manual of Trees of North America" by Charles Sprague Sargent

"Beneath the Canopy" by Bob Tjaden & Walt Gabel


All photos by Steve Childers



Due to indoor building reparations, the Abbott’s Mill Nature Center will be closed to the public temporarily. We anticipate reopening the Nature Center building with our normal schedule by the end of May. During this temporary building closure, however, the grounds at Abbott’s Mill are still open to the public for use of our hiking trails, observation platform, streamside boardwalks, restrooms and picnic area.


Fringe Tree

Also in beautiful bloom right now are our native Fringe trees (Chionanthus virginicus) Other common names are: Fringetree, Old Man's Beard, Grancy Greybeard and Sweetheart Tree.

Fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) 4-27-2023

Fringe tree is a small deciduous tree in the Oleaceae (olive) family. Its genus name comes from the Greek chion meaning snow and Anthos meaning flower. Native to the eastern U.S., it generally grows from 12 to 20 feet tall and wide, with a multi-stemmed rounded habit, though it can be trained into a single trunk.

Rain drenched Fringe tree blossoms 4-29-2023

This plant grows best in full to part sun with the best foliage in partial shade and the best flowering in full sun. Plant in average to rich well-drained neutral to alkaline soil. It can tolerate clay soil, however, and also tolerates some drought. They are best transplanted when young and rarely need pruning growing about 6 to 10 inches each year.

Rain drenched Fringetree blossoms 4-29-2023

In late spring, fragrant flower clusters with creamy white fringe-like petals appear. The showy blue-black fruits, maturing in late summer, provides a food source for birds and wildlife. A clear yellow color appears to provide some brightness to the fall landscape and the bark with its scaly dark brown ridges and red furrows brings winter interest.

In the nursery it may be difficult to determine if the plants are male or female unless they have flowers or fruits present. While the male flowers are more showy, fortunately both male and female plants make beautiful additions to any garden. Fringe tree is a nice specimen plant in lawns and also works well as a flowering tree in a native garden.

Source: North Carolina Extension Gardener

All photos by Steve Childers

Fringe Tree

Or Old Man’s Beard. That the names we give recall the thing is what we want. And yet, both names are boring when compared to the way it shimmers there like a firework that somehow doesn’t fall, or the way it will fall eventually from itself, swirling its gauzy pollen in the wind above the lawn where the children next door run outside in late April, swearing to their mother that it’s snowing. And even after they know they’re wrong, they squeal, insisting their mistake is something to dance through, something to repeat and repeat again—not hoping to make it right, just enjoying what it is and what it looks like the more they say so.

by James Davis May

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